2 Kings Chapter Thirteen
2 Kings 13
Reign of Jehoahaz. (1-9) Jehoash, king of Israel, Elisha dying. (10-19) Elisha's death, The victories of Jehoash. (20-25)
Commentary on 2 Kings 13:1-9
(Read 2 Kings 13:1-9)
It was the ancient honour of Israel that they were a praying people. Jehoahaz, their king, in his distress, besought the Lord; applied himself for help, but not to the calves; what help could they give him? He sought the Lord. See how swift God is to show mercy; how ready to hear prayer; how willing to find a reason to be gracious; else he would not look so far back as the ancient covenant Israel had so often broken, and forfeited. Let this invite and engage us for ever to him; and encourage even those who have forsaken him, to return and repent; for there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared. And if the Lord answer the mere cry of distress for temporal relief, much more will he regard the prayer of faith for spiritual blessings.
Commentary on 2 Kings 13:10-19
(Read 2 Kings 13:10-19)
Jehoash, the king, came to Elisha, to receive his dying counsel and blessing. It may turn much to our spiritual advantage, to attend the sick-beds and death-beds of good men, that we may be encouraged in religion by the living comforts they have from it in a dying hour. Elisha assured the king of his success; yet he must look up to God for direction and strength; must reckon his own hands not enough, but go on, in dependence upon Divine aid. The trembling hands of the dying prophet, as they signified the power of God, gave this arrow more force than the hands of the king in his full strength. By contemning the sign, the king lost the thing signified, to the grief of the dying prophet. It is a trouble to good men, to see those to whom they wish well, forsake their own mercies, and to see them lose advantages against spiritual enemies.
Commentary on 2 Kings 13:20-25
(Read 2 Kings 13:20-25)
God has many ways to chastise a provoking people. Trouble comes sometimes from that point whence we least feared it. The mention of this invasion on the death of Elisha, shows that the removal of God's faithful prophets is a presage of coming judgments. His dead body was a means of giving life to another dead body. This miracle was a confirmation of his prophecies. And it may have reference to Christ, by whose death and burial, the grave is made a safe and happy passage to life to all believers. Jehoash was successful against the Syrians, just as often as he had struck the ground with the arrows, then a stop was put to his victories. Many have repented, when too late, of distrusts and the straitness of their desires.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 2 Kings》
2 Kings 13
 Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who made Israel sin, but walked therein: and there remained the grove also in Samaria.)
The grove — Which Ahab had planted for the worship of Baal, and which should have been destroyed, Deuteronomy 7:5.
 Neither did he leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing.
He — The king of Syria.
People — Of his army, or men of war.
 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz, and all that he did, and his might, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
His might — For though his success was not good, he shewed much personal valour. Which is noted to intimate, that the Israelites were not conquered, because of the cowardice of their king, but merely from the righteous judgment of God, who was now resolved to reckon with them for their apostacy.
 Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.
Fallen sick, … — He lived long: for it was sixty years since he was first called to be a prophet. It was a great mercy to Israel and especially to the sons of the prophets, that he was continued so long, a burning and a shining light. Elijah finished his testimony, in a fourth part of that time. God's prophets have their day set them, longer or shorter, as infinite wisdom sees fit. But all the latter part of his time, from the anointing of Jehu, which was forty five years before Joash began his reign, we find no mention of him, or of any thing he did, 'till we find him here upon his death bed. Yet he might be useful to the last, tho' not so famous as he had sometimes been.
 And he said, Open the window eastward. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot. And he said, The arrow of the LORD's deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them.
Eastward — Toward Syria, which lay north-eastward, from the land of Israel: this arrow is shot against the Syrians, as a token what God intended to do against them.
 And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice, and stayed.
Smite — The former sign portended victory, this was to declare the number of the victories.
 And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.
Moabites invaded — The mentioning this immediately on the death of Elisha intimates, that the removal of God's faithful prophets, is a presage of judgments approaching.
 And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.
He revived — Which miracle God wrought, to do honour to that great prophet, and that by this seal he might confirm his doctrine, to strengthen the faith of Joash, and of the Israelites, in this promise of their success against the Syrians; and in the midst of all their calamities to comfort such Israelites as were Elisha's followers, with the hopes of eternal life, whereof this was a manifest pledge, and to awaken the rest of that people to a due care and preparation for it.
 And the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet.
Had compassion — The slowness of God's process against sinners even when they remain impenitent must be construed to the advantage of his mercy, not the impeachment of his justice.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 2 Kings》
13 Chapter 13
He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.
Just as two roads that diverge from each other at a very sharp angle, get the wider apart the further they go, till at last half a continent may be held betwixt them--the little deflection from the narrow line of Christian duty and simple faithfulness, it is only God’s mercy that will prevent it from leading thee away out, out, out into the waste plains and doleful wildernesses, where all sinful, and dark, and foul things dwell for ever.
The rest of the acts of Jehoahaz.
Records of life
How very little we know even of the men whose lives are written: “The rest of the acts of Jehoahaz and all that he did, and his might, are they not Written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel “ No! Another hand there indeed endeavours to sketch the life, but how much is left out! No human chronicler can put down all things concerning the subject which he has undertaken to depict. But the rest of our lives is written. A diary is kept in heaven; the journal is not published for the perusal of others; but the whole life, day by day, is put down in the book of remembrance; and we shall be able to recognise the writing, and to confirm the accuracy of the minute. We cannot get away from it, there is the writing, and it abides--a perpetual witness for us or against us. What is the Divine scribe now writing? The pen is going. We are obliged to use such figures to represent the spiritual reality. The writing is now proceeding: every thought registered, every deed chronicled, every day’s work added up and carried over to the next page. It is a solemn thing to live! We are stewards, trustees, servants sent on messages, and entrusted with specified duties, and we are expected back with a definite answer and a complete report of our lives. (J. Parker.)
Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died.
The death of Elisha
I. A great man dying.
II. A wicked man regretting the event.
III. A good man leaving the world interested in posterity. Elisha, though dying, was excited to some interest in the future of his country (2 Kings 13:15-19).
IV. A dead man exerting a wonderful influence. (David Thomas, D. D.)
And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows.
The king’s arrows
Elisha was lying ill on his deathbed. His long career of usefulness and blessing was drawing to a close. He was held in great honour, not only by the people but by the king, and when it was known that he was coming to the end of his career King Joash came to see him, and when he came into the room, and saw the prophet lying there, looking so frail and weak, the young king was greatly affected. He burst into tears, and cried aloud, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” Now Joash was neither a good nor a great man, but he was still young and not yet hardened, and he had no doubt a sudden vision of something of the meaning of the great value of Elisha to the kingdom. Elisha was a man of deeds, and he called the young man to his composure by saying to him, “Take bow and arrows.” For a moment Elisha is king, and the king is his servant, and the king turns and takes up a bow and arrows.
1. God’s hand on ours is our only guarantee of success. When Elisha had young King Joash take up the bow and arrows and place the arrow on the string and make ready to shoot, he put his own hands over the hands of the king to illustrate and impress upon the mind of this young ruler that if he gave himself to earnest, resolute attack upon the enemies of God and of His people the hand of God should be with him as a guarantee of victory. The lesson is as important for us as it was for Joash. God calls ‘every one of us to fight His enemies and the enemies of mankind. And there is that other warfare in our own hearts, that campaign against our personal besetting sins. God’s hand must be on our hand if the arrow shall find its mark and do its execution.
2. We are to smite sin utterly. God seeks to deliver us entirely from sin, but we may limit the deliverance of God by our own conduct. When the prophet told the young king to shoot his arrow eastward towards his Syrian enemy, he exclaimed, “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance.” But when, to test the young king, he told him to take up the arrows and smite on the ground with them, his heart was heavy and his soul indignant as he noticed that he struck half-heartedly and that after only three strokes he turned about in a lifeless sort of way as if looking for further directions. Let us not fail of this great lesson, God seeks our complete deliverance from sin. He desires that every enemy which troubles us and hinders us from working out the great purposes to which we are called of Jesus Christ shall be consumed and destroyed. But let us never forget that whether or not this is accomplished depends at the last upon us. It is a solemn thing that we, by our nerveless will, by our flabby lack of purpose, by our mushy indecision may thwart the purpose of Almighty God and continue to live lives far beneath our privilege. Let us smite, and smite, and smite, and yet again, smite, until every wicked passion, until every evil appetite, until every besetting sin shall be smitten to the death in our hearts and Jesus shall be crowned Lord over all.
3. There is no greater danger to the Christian than lack of persistence. Over and over again is this urged upon us in the Bible. Joash failed for lack of persistence. Many a Christian in these later centuries has failed because he gave up in despair by the way.
4. We are in great danger of being too easily satisfied. It may be that King Joash thought that three victories over Syria would be enough. It was not in him to rise up to a high ideal of his mission or to grasp the fulness of God’s willingness to make him not only the great King of Israel but the great king of all the world. Because he was easily satisfied his career was short and disgraceful. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
Poverty of faith ensures but partial success
We may take this closing incident in the life of Elisha, as an illustration of the warfare between the soul and its enemies, and the conditions upon which complete victory is achieved.
1. Israel. Redeemed out of Egypt, in Canaan, where they might have lived in the enjoyment of triumph over all foes. Not in absolute exemption from conflict, but trusting in God and obeying Him, they would never have known defeat. They disbelieved, disobeyed, and as a consequence, there was failure and defeat. Type of a soul which has passed out of death (Egypt) into life (Canaan). But it has left its first love, in which it might have abode in the joys of continuous victory.
2. Israel’s enemies. Syria in particular. We find ourselves attacked from different quarters at the same time.
3. Promised deliverance.
(a) A definite deliverance--“from Syria.”
(b) A Divine deliverance--“The Lord’s deliverance.”
Spiritual deliverance is promised us. Definite promises of deliverance from the dominion, love and pollution of sin.
4. The king’s error. He erred in not resolving on, and expecting, complete success. “He smote thrice, and stayed.” He, as it were, “limited the Holy One of Israel.” He certainly manifested a lack of faith and of courage. In the spiritual life we should aim at, and expect, complete success. Be satisfied with nothing short of this. Not to rest while a single foe has a footing in the territory which belongs to God. We are to be “more than conquerors.”
5. The king’s partial success. Elisha would not have been “wrath” had there not been good cause. Elisha was God’s messenger. As when he declared that there should be plenty in Samaria within a given time, and the lord of the court was held guilty for not believing the message, so here. On account of weak faith, we are often only partially successful against our spiritual enemies. Would Naaman have been cured of his leprosy had he dipped in Jordan but thrice, and then stayed?
6. The king’s loss through unbelief. He was not aware, possibly, of the grandeur of the opportunity. Perhaps he treated the prophet’s simple message with contempt--obeying him merely to indulge the whim of an old and dying man--failing to look beyond the prophet to God who sent him. Perhaps we stumble sometimes at the message because we look no farther or higher than the messenger. He is not talented, famous, but coarse, etc. The king suffered. So do we when this spirit is indulged. (J. E. Robinson.)
There are two acts in this wonderful event. The first concerns the shooting of the arrow of deliverance, a symbolic and prophetic act; the second concerns the smiting on the ground with arrows, also symbolical, but providing as well a test of the character, of the zeal, and of the faith of the King of Israel. Now concerning these two acts and the several scenes in them let us speak as God may guide us.
I. Shooting the arrow of deliverance. Notice,
1. A call to action. “Take bow and arrows,” said the dying prophet. There is a deal of meaning wrapped up in this apparently simple suggestion. Elisha had come to a full end, and like a shock of corn that was fully ripe he was now bending towards the sharpened sickle. The king, who was not remarkable all the years of his life for his devotion to God or to His prophets, is now found trembling and weeping by the side of the sick servant of Jehovah. Then it is that the dying prophet, with more faith and hope and vigour in him even at the last article than the sinful king in his prime and power, exclaims as it were, “Weep not, tremble not, faint not, fear not; I am going, but God is with you. God buries His workmen, but He carries on His work. I die, but God will surely visit you. Do not let this sad event unduly depress you. I must die, for my time has come; but so long as you live, live to purpose, take bow and arrows, let not your hands hang down. Go forth to the battle yet again, and believe in the God to whom I have so long, though vainly, pointed you; for He is the Lord God of Hosts, the God of battles still. Dry up your tears; forsake your grief; take bow and arrows; arm yourself; go forth into the fight, and the Lord my God shall be with you.”
2. I notice next that Elisha gives to the king several strict injunctions; indeed, the detail to which he condescends is most remarkable. All through these verses we find a long list of instructions and commands. “Take bow and arrows.” “Put thine hand upon the bow.” “Open the window eastward.” “Shoot.” “Take the arrows.” “Smite upon the ground.” The dying prophet instructs the king in all the minutiae of his immediate duty. The wisest of us need to be divinely directed.
3. Then followed on the king’s part implicit obedience. “Take,” said the prophet; “and he took.” So it is throughout. “Put thine hand upon the bow;” “and he put his hand upon it.” “Open the window;” “and he opened it.” “Shoot;” “and he shot.” “Smite;” “and he smote.” All through there is a corresponding obedience on the king’s part to the arrangement and suggestion of the prophet. So should it ever be with us and God. Let His imperative be answered by obedient indicative on our part.
4. There follows a hint as to the necessity for personal interest and effort. Read the 16th verse.
5. There was Divine co-operation, for we read “Elisha put his hands upon the king’s hands:”
6. Notice next that the window had to be opened. He said, “Open the window eastward. And he opened it.” In other words, every obstruction and possible hindrance has to be got rid of. You see the importance of this.
7. Then at last they come to the decisive action. All the rest has been preliminary and preparatory.
II. The second act, the smiting with the other arrows. This was a symbolical act, as was the first. The flight of the single arrow through the open lattice must have been readily understood by the king, for it was the custom there and then, as in other lands and times, to throw down the gage of battle, or to hurl a dart, the signal of the war. God has shot out of every window of this Tabernacle arrows of deliverance, if I may so speak; but with this purpose, that we ourselves shall follow up those tokens, and hope and believe that they were prophecies and promises with meaning which must meet with further fulfilment. It remains for us to shoot the other arrows, for we have a quiver full of them. The command was to smite with them on the ground. You see the meaning of that. It is as though Elisha said, “The arrow of God’s deliverance has gone forth; it has already found its mark and done its work. You have now, if you will but believe it, these Syrians crouching at your very feet. God has already humbled them, and they are now at your mercy. Smite upon the ground. They are already at your feet. God has delivered them into your hands. Smite! Smite!” The king obeys, but with too little zeal. (T. Spurgeon.)
The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance
How the spiritual drama repeats itself year after year! Again and again we see young people come up full of enthusiasm, full of the memory of the great things that noble lives have done, lamenting the glory that has departed from the earth, feeling a sudden impulse, which like an arrow is shot forth from the soul, essaying to do some great and noble work; and in that moment the prophetic voice is heard saying, The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance; there lies the work of your life. This sudden impulse that takes possession of you in your youth, and causes you to shoot forth the arrows of the aspirations of your soul,--these are the things, that show you the way of the Lord. It is God’s purpose that you should be the deliverer of His people in the particular path that He has opened before you. How that is going on every day! How every day at college men are lifting up their hearts, and setting open the windows of their souls, and looking out, shooting forth the thoughts and hopes and desires of their soul into this great unknown world! And then what? Then says the prophetic voice again, Smite upon the ground, Take these arrows and bind them together, and in a Divine frenzy devote yourself, soul and body, to the work that God has revealed to you to do. Then comes the critical moment in a man’s life. He smites thrice, and stays. He says to himself, I need not do my best; I can do about as well as other men and not be wearied by my work; I have gifts that will enable me to live, and enable me to attain, perchance, a fortune, and yet I need not give up the things that make life pleasant; I need not turn aside from my self-indulgence; I will smite thrice, and stay. So it comes to pass that this great multitude, surging out into the life of the world year after year, equipped, crowned as kings for the work of life, smite the Syrians but thrice. The work of life is but half done. They remain failures, when they might have triumphed gloriously. Or take another illustration of the same thing. Here is a woman who has given herself up to a life of frivolity and vanity. Perhaps she is not to blame for that; perhaps she has had no ideal of noble things set before her. But some day the casement is thrown open, and she sees a new life before her,--a life which shall be devoted to husband and Children and home, a life which shall for the first time remember the great forgotten who dwell among us. The hand of the prophet is on that woman, and her soul shoots forth the arrow of a new desire. And the voice says, It is the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance; there lie the glory, and splendour, and nobility of your life; there is the path on which God would have you walk, and you may deliver yourself and deliver those who live about you from the slavery and misery of the false ideals that thus far have dominated them. Smite, says the voice of the prophet. Devote yourself, soul and body, instantly, to the new work that has been revealed to you. And she smites thrice. She goes to see some poor stricken soul, and she finds it tiresome; she turns aside from some gathering of frivolity, and her soul is parched. She undertakes some noble work of self-denial, and she is tired. She smites thrice, and stays, and goes down with the great multitude, worthless, useless, bringing no fruit to perfection Listen to one more example of the same thing. Here is a man or woman who has come on through life, and suddenly awakes to the consciousness of his ignorance of the Divine revelation in Jesus Christ. It smites upon him. Sometimes for one cause, and sometimes for another, it comes to pass that men and women living here in this city suddenly for the first time have a revelation of the glory and beauty and power of the life of Jesus Christ. And they say to themselves, Is the thing a myth? How has it come to pass that people have dreamed of such a life? How is it that men and women gather week after week, and day after day, to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ, and desire to serve Him? That man shoots forth the arrow of his desire for knowledge, and the voice says, It is the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance. There lies the path by which you shall walk into the kingdom of truth and be saved from your enemies. And he begins to read. He reads a little, and he talks a little, and he thinks a little. But he learns before long that there is opening up before him a great and tremendous work, and the scepticism of the time finds voice, and whispers, Why waste your energies to learn that which cannot be known? Devote the energy of life to something that is practical; turn aside from vain dreams. So he, like the others, smites thrice and stays, and enters the great company of sceptics,--or, as they like to be called to-day, agnostics,--ignorant of God’s eternal truth. (Leighton Parks.)
The Lord’s arrow of victory
You see then the full measure of victory which God wants us to enjoy. “Thou shalt smite the Syrians till thou have consumed them.” You see, too, the limited measure of victory which most Christians experience. “He smote thrice and stayed.” Three big blessings and we think we have had all. Three successes over the enemy and we think we have done wonders. But the Saviour marvels that after all He went through for us, we should be content with such half measures. We glean from it four rules for complete victory in the Christian life.
1. Declare war against sin. Elisha breaks in upon the king’s lamentations with the emphatic words, “Take bow and arrows.” It is time not for weeping but for warring. The genius of the gospel is not peace at any price, but truth at all costs.
2. Union is strength. This is the meaning of the second act in this significant drama. “The prophet laid his hands upon the king’s hands.” Like the officer who sallied forth to capture one of the enemy’s forts, after two unsuccessful attempts had been made, asking first of all from his general a grasp of his conquering right hand, so we must know what it is for our weakness to be encompassed in Christ’s strength.
3. Claim a complete deliverance. This is the meaning of the next step. The window was opened eastward and through the open window was shot forth the Lord’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Syria.
4. Then came the fourth act with its momentous lesson, “Fulfil the obedience of faith,” and the king failed at this point so that the man of God was angry with him. How slow we are to learn this lesson. It is what we are in secret before God that fixes the amount of victory and blessing we enjoy in our walk and service amongst men. If only Joash had emptied the quiver he would have consumed the Syrians. If only we will he whole-hearted before God, yielding our will wholly and trusting God’s promises absolutely, we too shall be completely victorious against the world, the flesh, and the devil. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
The challenge arrow
History gives us the explanation of this symbolic narrative. It appears that in former times war was often proclaimed or renewed by the despatch of an arrow into the enemy’s lines. Elisha meant to teach the king that, although he was weak and dying, yet Israel’s cause was not going to die with him; and that the same power that made Israel strong in the past would follow the king in his new campaign against the Syrian oppressor. Let us learn the following lessons from the laying of those old emaciated hands of the prophet upon the young strong hands of the king. We see there a picture of--
I. The past directing the present. When we crossed the threshold of the year we did not get rid of the old; for the past is always stretching out its vanishing hands to direct and influence the present. The white-bearded face of Elisha well represents the past, which is over behind us, overlooking our work. The actions, associations, and habits of the past are still with us. We may turn over a new leaf, but we cannot unlearn at once the irregularities of the defective writing on the previous page. We may point the arrow afresh, but the old hands are inevitably influencing the sweep it takes from the bow. This influence is exerted by the past, whether it is good or evil. Virtue and piety reap their immediate, as well as ultimate, harvests. The good deeds of the past are ever stretching forth their gentle hands to guide and bless not only ourselves, but others as well. Who can tell the influence of a mother’s prayers uttered by lips long since sealed in death? In the critical moment of her boy’s career, it would seem as if a straw would have turned the scale of destiny this way or that. The young impulsive nature is guided and restrained by the mother’s prayers answered, the mother’s words remembered, the mother’s influence exerted; and these have saved him in the hour of danger
II. The Divine controlling the Human. “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance “ had power in it, not because of the strong hand of Joash who pulled the bow, but mainly because of the prophetic hands that were laid upon him as he did so. Mere human effort is fruitless unless a higher power directs and controls the course and goal of the arrow’s flight. We may spread the sails, but they must be filled with heaven-sent breezes. We may sow the seed, but God gives the increase. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” We form plans and projects, we bend the bow, and throw all our power into the work lying before us, but unless a higher power is with us, all the determination and foresight we may command are valueless. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” If this is true in regard to temporal concerns, how much more should we recognise its truth in the spiritual sphere. Too long has the enemy oppressed and held dominion over our hearts and our lives. Let us look to the ground we would reconquer and reclaim for the King of kings. Let us resolve that this slavery of our souls to sin shall cease. And as we do so, let us pray for the presence and power of the “hands of the mighty God of Jacob” to strengthen our weakness and give us the victory. But while thus trusting in Divine help, notice that it was the young king who drew the bow. Human effort is as essential as Divine direction. God’s promise to help does not warrant idleness. The sense of God’s helping us should not paralyse, but should rather stimulate to doing and daring greater things than we have ever hitherto attempted. The narrative suggests that effort must be sustained to be successful. One blow never won a battle. The king stayed his hand after he had discharged three arrows, and the man of God was wrath, and said he should have smitten the ground oftener, and then he would have utterly consumed the foe. So long as God bids us “fight the good fight”, we must not cease our warring. So long as His hand is urging us we must smite again and again. Let us not desist, as Joash may have done, from a feeling of tenderness towards me enemy, nor from unbelief in the efficacy of the means ordained of God for our deliverance. Both motives have hindered and crippled the efforts of many a hopeful life. Finally, let us ask ourselves, has “the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance” been discharged from our bow at all? Have we declared war against sin and Satan? If not, let us do so before another day closes. Look up and see God’s hands held out, waiting, and able to help and to save you, and to rid from the guilt and bondage and pollution of sin. Fight for your life, and the lives of those around you, and all your arrows shall bring help and joy and peace to you and yours. (David A. Taylor.)
Three arrows, or six
It is a very difficult task to show the meeting-place of the purpose of God and the free agency of man. One thing is quite clear, we ought not to deny either of them, for they are both facts. It is a fact that God has purposed all things both great and little; neither will anything happen but according to His eternal purpose and decree. It is also a sure and certain fact that, oftentimes, events hang upon the choice of men. Their will has a singular potency. In the ease before us, the arrows are in the hands of the King of Israel; and according to whether he shall shoot once, twice, thrice, or five or six times, so will the nation’s history be affected. Now, how these two things can both be true, I cannot tell you; neither, probably, after long debate, could the wisest men in heaven tell you, not even with the assistance of cherubim and seraphim. If they could tell you, what would you know, and in what way would you be benefited if you could find out this secret? But sometimes a practical question about these two points does arise. It is correct to say, speaking after the manner of men, “If men are earnest, if men are believing, if men are prayerful, such and such a blessing will come”; and that the blessing does not come, may be rightly traced to the fact that they were not as prayerful and as believing as they ought to have been. Next, reflect what great things may lie in a man’s hand There stood Joash an unworthy king; and yet m his hands lay, measurably, the destiny of his people. If he will take those arrows, and will shoot five or six times, their great enemy will be broken in pieces. If he will be dilatory, and will only shoot three times, he will get only a measure of victory; and poor Israel will ultimately have to suffer again from this enemy, who has been only scotched, and not killed. You do not know, dear friends, what responsibility lies upon you. You are the father of a family; what blessings may come to your household, or may be missed by your children, through your conduct! Once more, notice what great results may come from very little acts. It was a very trifling thing, was it not, to shoot an arrow from a bow? Your child has done it many times in his holidays. He has taken his bow, and shot his little home-made shaft into the air. This is what the King of Israel is required to do, to perform this very slight and common feat of archery, to shoot from an open window, and to drive his arrows into the ground beneath; and yet upon the shooting of these arrows will hang victory or defeat for Israel so there be some who think that hearing the Gospel is a little thing. Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown, may hang upon the preaching and hearing of a sermon.
I. Let me speak of some matters in which many men too soon pause. There are some who, having great opportunities,--and we all have them more or less,--shoot only three times when they ought to shoot five or six times.
1. One of these matters is in the warfare with the evil within. Some, as soon as they begin their Christian life, fit an arrow to the string, and shoot down big sins, such as swearing., or drunkenness, or open uncleanness. When they have shot these three times, they seem to think that the other enemies within them may be tolerated. My brother, thou shouldest have shot five or six times.
2. There are some who shoot three times, and then leave off, with regard to Christian knowledge. They know the simple truth of justification by faith; but they do not want to know much about sanctification by the Spirit of God. Why not, my brother? Canst thou be saved unless thou art sanctified? Some are perfectly satisfied with laying again the first principles, always going over those; but they want to know no more. I beseech you, strive to be educated in the things of God.
3. Some, again, sin in this way with regard to Christian attainments. They have little faith, and they say, “Faith like a grain of mustard-seed will save you.” That is true. But are you always to be a little one? A grain of mustard-seed is not worth anything if it does not grow; it is meant to grow till it comes to be a tree, and birds lodge in its boughs. Come, my dear friend, if thou hast little faith, do not rest till thou hast great faith, till thou hast full assurance, till thou hast the full assurance of understanding.
4. Others, again, seem satisfied with little usefulness. You brought a soul to Christ, did you? Oh, that you would long to bring another! Do you not remember what the general said, in the war, when one rode up to him, and cried out, “We have taken a gun from the enemy”? “Take another,” said the general. If you have brought one soul to Christ, it should make you hunger and thirst to bring another.
5. And this spirit comes out very vividly in prayer. You do pray; else were you not the living children of God at all; but oh, for more power in prayer! You have asked for a blessing; why not ask for a far greater one?
6. The Church of God, as a whole, is guilty here, as to her plans for God’s glory. She is doing much more now than she used to do; but even now, though she smites three times, we may say to her, “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times.” Oh, that the Church of Christ had a boundless ambition to conquer the world for her Lord!
II. But now, secondly, let me speak of the reasons for this pausing, Why do men come to a dead hall so soon?
1. Some of them say that they are afraid of being presumptuous. You are afraid of being too holy, are you? Dismiss your fear. You are afraid of asking for too much grace; be afraid of having too little. You are afraid of conquering sin; tremble for fear of an unconquered sin. There is no presumption in taking the largest promise of God, and pleading it, and expecting to have it fulfilled.
2. Perhaps one says, “I have not the natural ability to be doing more, or enjoying more.” What has natural ability to do with it? When all thy natural abilities are in the grave, and thou lookest only to the spiritual strength of God, then thou shalt see greater things than these.
3. Shall I tell you the real reasons why men pause in their work? With some, it is because they are too dependent upon their fellow-men. This King Joash could shoot when Elisha put his hand on his hand; probably Elisha only did that once, and then left him to himself, and said, “Now, you shoot.” Then he only shot three times. There are many Christian people who are a great deal too dependent upon their ministers, or upon some elderly Christian person who has helped them onward.
4. Another reason why some pause is, that they are too soon contented. Joash thought that he had done very well when he had shot three times, and that Elisha would pat him on the back, and say, “How well you have done!” That kind of feeling creeps over many workers for the Lord.
5. Joash, too, I dare say, gave up shooting because he was unbelieving. He could not see how shooting the arrows could affect the Syrians; and he wanted to see.
6. I should not wonder, also, if Joash was too indolent to shoot five or six times. He did not feel in a shooting humour. Now, whenever you do not feel in a humour for prayer, then is the time when you ought to pray twice as much.
7. Joash also probably had too little zeal. He was not wide awake, he was not thoroughly aroused, he did not care for the glory of God. If he could beat the Syrians three times, that would be quite enough for him.
III. But now, thirdly, notice the lamentable result of this pausing.
1. When Joash had shot three times, he paused; and therefore the blessing paused. Three times he shot, and three times God gave him victory. Do you see what you are doing by pausing? You are stopping the conduit-pipe by which the river of blessing will flow to you. Do not do that; to impoverish yourself must certainly be a needless operation.
2. You will suffer in consequence, as this king did; for, after the three victories, the rival power came to the front again.
3. Others will also suffer with you.
4. Meanwhile, the enemy triumphed.
5. What was even worse, Jehovah Himself was dishonoured.
6. Yet again, glorious possibilities were lost.
IV. The cure for this pausing.
1. If we pause in our holy service, or in getting near to God, or in sucking the marrow out of the promises, remember that the enemy will not pause.
2. A cure for this stopping lies in the reflection that in other things we are generally eager.
3. And lastly, this question ought to prevent us from ever pausing Can we ever do enough for our Saviour? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The small gains of the irresolute
We have here a more than commonly graphic page of Holy Scripture. A young king grieving over the death bed of an often neglected prophet; the feeble hands of the old saint laid on the vigorous hands of his sovereign, as they held the familiar arrows and bow; the swift course of one arrow shot by Divine direction towards the land of a dangerous enemy; the handful of arrows struck a scanty number of times on the ground by the unbelieving youth; and the wrath of the patriotic prophet (compare the anger of Christ, of whom Elisha may have been a type, Mark 3:5), who longed for a widespread deliverance throughout the Holy Land. It is a picturesque story, but more than picturesque. It may be reckoned a parable as well as a tale. For--
I. There was a great opportunity. Though Joash was undeserving (2 Kings 13:11, “he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord”) God was graciously ready to grant him complete escape from impending evil (the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, 2 Kings 13:17); even as helpless sinners have offered to them, through Divine mercy, present pardon and holiness here, the earnest of complete salvation hereafter.
II. The improvement of that opportunity required a personal effort. And Joash was experiencing a measure of religious revival. His visit to the old prophet woke up stirring associations (tears rolled down his checks as he cried, “My father,” etc., 2 Kings 13:14). Much as the anniversary of a confirmation vow, a return after absence to a religious home, or the voice of a forgotten counsellor once more heard, may touch affectingly the conscience of a backslider. But--
III. The inadequate effort of little faith had a correspondingly slight result. Perhaps Joash thought the striking of arrows on the ground too trivial an action for very frequent repetition; perhaps he did not wish his companions to suppose him very obedient to a religious teacher; perhaps he was languid from the mere habit of attending to all sacred duties listlessly; perhaps he was in a hurry to be gone to some other occupation. But want of trust in the Divine revelation must have been the main cause of his curtailed exertion. And the measure of his receiving was proportioned to the small measure of his seeking. God faithfully gave him three victories, after his three strokes, but only three (2 Kings 13:25). Too many have in like manner lessened the measure of their peace, holiness, and hope, by not perseveringly using means of grace which might be vastly profitable. (D. D. Stewart, M. A.)
The story of a bad stopping
Is not the lesson evident? Smiting but thrice and staying--only half-doing, not pushing to the finishing in grand faith and unrelaxing purpose--is not that the trouble with multitudes of men? Here, then, is our story of a bad stopping.
1. In the direction of success in the daily life men often make a bad stopping. They smite but thrice and stay. Success is duty. The difference between men as to making the most of themselves is due, oftener than we are apt to think, to this simply, whether they smite but thrice and stay, or whether they not only smite thrice but,--go on smiting. “But it is hard,” men say. Yes; but everything that gets up in this world must struggle up. One relates how Arago, the Trench astronomer, tells, in his autobiography, that in his youth he one day became puzzled and discouraged over his mathematics, and almost resolved to give up the study. He held his paper-bound text-book in his hand. Impelled by an indefinable curiosity, he damped the cover of the book, and carefully unrolled the leaf to see what was on the other side. It turned out to be a brief letter from D’Alembert to a young man like himself, disheartened by the difficulties of mathematical study, who had written to him for counsel. This was the letter: “Go on, sin, go on. The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness upon your path.” Arago went on, and became the first astronomical mathematician of his time, “But I am too old,” men say. But use is the law of growth; and the quickest way to bring upon one’s self the worst sort of senility is to withdraw from life and the interests and duties of it. “But I would be humble,” men say. Yes; but if you do not amount to much, there is all the mere reason you should make the most of yourself. And a true humility is never a withdrawing from service, but is always a readiness to set one’s self to even the lowliest service for the love of God and fellow-men.
2. In the direction of overcoming evil habits men often make a bad stopping. They smite but thrice and stay. As some one says, such men are like a man who, attempting to jump a ditch, will never really jump, but will for ever stop and return for a fresh run.
3. In the direction of resisting temptation men often make this bad stopping. They resist thrice, but at the fourth assault they yield.
4. In the direction of advance in the Christian life men often make this bad stopping. Plenty of Christians through a long life do not get much beyond the initial stage of justification.
5. In the direction of becoming Christian, men often make this bad stopping. They smite in the way of at least a partial and outward change of life, etc., but when it comes to a total and irreversible surrender of the self to the Lord Jesus, they stay. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
God’s purpose and man’s response
A beautiful verse higher up the chapter tells us that “the Lord gave Israel a saviour” in answer to a repentant king’s prayer. A study of the history reveals the fact that the deliverer was the grandson of the praying man. The text explains why the Divine mercy skipped a generation. The son of the royal penitent was tried and found wanting; therefore deliverance had to wait until his son, in turn, sat on the throne.
I. The Divine purpose symbolised. The shooting of an arrow, or the flinging of a dart into an enemy’s country was anciently a declaration of war. It signified that the archer and those he represented claimed the territory into which the missile was flung, and unless their challenge was successfully resisted would occupy it. Now eastwards from Samaria, the scene of this interview, was the district which the Syrians had taken from Israel. It was the direction from which their predatory bands came. To the north-east lay Syria itself. The shooting, of the arrow was plainly a declaration of war against Syria. That the prophet’s hands were upon the monarch’s when it was discharged, signified that it was God who flung down the challenge. Now a challenge to combat by the Almighty is, of course, a prophecy of victory for Him. Here then, by vivid symbolism, we have the Divine purpose to deliver Israel from Syrian oppression declared. God’s purposes in the spiritual realm are revealed with equal clearness to us. It is His will that the world shall be evangelised and every Christian perfected. He has shot His arrow over the world. The incubus of devilry that now oppresses it is to be annihilated. The shadow of the Cross is upon every land. Every Christian, too, is to be perfected. We are saved rom hell: we are to be saved from sin. Our spirits are the Lord’s: our bodies arid minds are to become His also. All our spiritual enemies are to be conquered, and each wandering thought brought “into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Over the entire life of the believer the Saviour’s arrow has been discharged. But these glorious purposes are to be accomplished through human instrumentality. Although the prophet’s hands were upon his, it was King Joash who shot the arrow. God intends to conquer the world and our own bad hearts by our agency. In His might, we are to take possession of the world for our Redeemer. Further, as God’s agents we should use the wisest means to fulfil His purposes. Joash had to take and use bow and arrow. One might say that only a bow and arrow were used that all the glory might be given to God! But that would be a wrong inference. Bows and arrows in the hands of Chinese troops to-day excite the derision of Europeans. But in the days of Joash, they comprised the most formidable artillery that could be employed in warfare. The symbolic lesson was that Joash was to use the wisest means--to employ all his military might--to effect the deliverance God had planned. We, also, are to do our best for God. We are to plan wisely: we are to labour diligently. We are to make the most of ourselves. Our powers should be trained to their utmost degree of efficiency. Not only for winning others, but also for saving our own souls we should use the best means.
II. A human response invited. The King of Israel has been, as it were, in the council-chamber of the Eternal. He has been shown, figuratively but clearly, the Divine will. He is now taken back to the region of practical, everyday life. That is God’s purpose, says his mentor. Now show your acceptance of it and responsiveness to it. Take the remaining arrows. “And he took them.” “Smite upon the ground”--that is, Smite the ground with the arrows; in other words, Shoot them into the earth. “And he smote”--or shot--“thrice, and stayed.” Now here is a mystery. In the seventeenth verse we read, “Thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them”: here, “Thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.” In the one place we have the Divine purpose; in the other, that purpose as limited by the degree of human responsiveness to it. We are surely taught that God’s plans depend for their fulfilment upon our acceptance of them and co-operation in them. This I say, is a mystery. Nothing happens apart from God. His will is surely done. That is most certain. Yet we may refuse to co-operate with Him, and so hinder, if not frustrate, His purpose. That also is undeniable. God’s elect will be saved, yet the blood of souls may cling to the skirts of a faithless watchman. God’s will shall be done, but we may be condemned for hindering it. God’s sovereignty does not lessen our responsibility. How to harmonise these apparently incongruous truths, we do not know. Let us be content to accept them both, although for the present we do not see the relation between them. Joash is an example of low content. He had no ambition to be a David or a Solomon. A comfortable, easy-going life was all he desired. He wanted to be free from the yoke of Syria, but did not aspire to play the role of national hero. We are all too like him in his ignoble satisfaction. In the world we are ambitions. We long for wealth; we thirst for fame. The higher we can climb, and the sooner we can attain, the better we are pleased. But we have no sacred ambition to dare and to do greatly for God. How few pant after holiness or burn with desire to see the world won for Christ! And therefore we shoot but three arrows, when we ought to shoot five or six times. God forgive us our low content, and inspire us with loftier ideals! Let us not be satisfied with what may reasonably be considered all that could be expected--with the formal discharge of recognised duties. Let us form a high conception of what God expects from us, and dare greatly in the attempt to achieve it, Perhaps Joash was indolent. He lacked energy and perseverance. He had no tenacity of purpose, nor measure of continuance in well-doing. Certainly that is the fault of most of us. We serve God by fits and starts. There are times when we live near Him, and give the devil trouble. We grow rapidly in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Oh, if we could only keep on that level, we should soon become holy! But we do not. Lassitude creeps over us. Reaction sets in. We relapse into indifference. But the real secret of Joash’s remissness was, in all probability, unbelief. The Syrians were a powerful nation. Israel was weak through long oppression. And whether we acknowledge it or not, it is unbelief that stays our hands also. The cold fingers of unbelief, laid upon the arm that draws the bowstring, cause it to fall paralysed to the side. The world, the flesh, and thy devil are so real and powerful. There they were, rioting and ravaging, in the days of our fathers. There they are, ruining souls to-day. And there, surely, they will be to the end of the chapter! Is it conceivable that sin can lose its fascination for us, that all our inclinations towards it can be stamped out, and we, old sinners, be changed into the radiant image of the Christ of God? Is it credible that in the outside world drunkenness will be abolished, impurity exterminated, wars ended, and the world, hoary in wickedness, “bound by gold chains about the feet of God”? Hardly! So the arms that are stretched to shoot are palsied. We smite only two or three times. According to our faith is our effort,--and our success. All possibilities are in God. To convert them into actualities, we must believe and endeavour and persevere. We have the objective promise. There must now be the subjective appropriation of it. These two things together spell success. Man without God is impotent. God without man does not choose to work. “God and one man are a majority against the world.”
III. A human failure deplored. “He smote thrice, and stayed. And the man of God was wroth with him.” For Joash, by his want of faith and energy, had lost for ever the honour that might have been his. God’s will will undoubtedly be done, but if we fail to rise to it and work for it, it will fling us from its triumphant path, and summon others to its side, while we are left to suffer incalculable and eternal loss. No doubt we shall become perfect in heaven, but eternity itself will not compensate for the lack of holy culture here. Christ will win, but we may be denied a place beside Him when, in His chariot of victory, He passes through the eternal gates and the everlasting doors. Erasmus might have been the leader of the reformation of the sixteenth century. He published the Greek New Testament, and also a Latin translation of it. He taught the importance of knowledge of the Scriptures. He gave the initial impulse to the mighty movement which resulted in Protestantism. But when he saw how great a matter a little fire was kindling, Erasmus, timid and fearful, shrank back. Luther and others stepped forward and covered themselves with immortal glory, while Erasmus left a name which is pronounced half with honour and ball with contempt, as that of a learned man who proved a moral weakling, one who saw the light but feared to walk in it. Let us have a holy ambition to excel in the kingdom of God. Let us patiently continue in well-doing, shooting not three arrows, hut five or six. Through Joash’s failure, too, Israel suffered. The bondage to Syria continued. Oppression by the foreign invader went drearily on. How far the Christian Church is responsible for the fact that on the eve of the twentieth century the world is so far from God, we cannot tell. It is a question which one shudders to face. Still, it is undoubtedly true that the poverty of our response hinders the completion of God’s gracious purposes. God was dishonoured by the monarch’s laxity. The Syrians, who blasphemed His name, continued to rule in His land. And by our unspiritual lives and lax efforts God is dishonoured to-day. If we only rose to His purposes and became holy men and women and earnest and successful workers, how greatly He would be glorified! As it is, we don’t remain at concert-pitch long enough for the music to rise to His praise. We so soon give in that we bring contempt on the power we profess to work by. Let us rouse ourselves from spiritual sluggishness. Let us shoot, not three arrows, but five or six, or a dozen. (B. J. Gibbon.)
And Elisha put his hands upon the king’s hands.
The spirit of power
This is part of one of the strangest narratives in the Old Testament. Elisha is on his death bed, “sick of the sickness” wherewith he “should die.” A very different scene that close sick chamber from the open plain beyond Jordan, from which Elijah had gone up; a very different way of passing from life by fiery chariot than by wasting sickness! But God is as near His servant in the one place as in the other, and the slow wasting away is as much His messenger as the sudden apocalypse of the horsemen of fire. Here is a prophet dying; and his last words are not edifying moral and religious reflections, nor does he seem to be much concerned to leave with the king his final protest against Israel’s sin, but his thoughts are all of warfare, and his last effort is to stir up the sluggish young monarch to some of his own enthusiasm in the conflict with the enemy. It does not sound like an edifying death-bed. People might have said, “Ah, secular and political affairs should be all out of a man’s mind when he comes to his last moments.” But this man thought that to stick to his life’s work till the last breath was out of him, and to devote the last breath to stimulating successors who might catch up the torch that dropped from his failing hands, was no unworthy end of a prophet’s life.
I. Here we have power communicated. We, too, if we are Christian men and women, have a Gospel of which the very kernel is that there is to us a communication of power. And the very name of that Divine Spirit whom it is Christ’s greatest work to send flashing and flaming through the world, is the Spirit of Power. And so the old promise that ye shall be clothed with strength from on high is the standing prerogative of the Christian Church. There is not merely some partial communication, as when hand touched hand, but every organ is vitalised and quickened; as in the case of the other miracle of this prophet, when he stretched himself on the dead child, eye to eye, and mouth to mouth, and hand to hand; and each part received the vitalising influence. We have, if we are Christian people, a Spirit given to us, and are “strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man.” Then, further, let me remind you that this power, which is bestowed on condition of contact, is given before duties are commanded. Further, this strength communicated is realised in the effort to obey Christ’s great commands. Joash felt nothing when the hands were laid upon him, but, perhaps, some tingling. But when he got the bow in his hand, and drew the arrow to its head, the infused power stiffened his muscles and strengthened him to pull; and though he could not distinguish between his own natural corporeal ability and that which had been thus imparted to him, the two co-operated in the one act, and it was when he drew his bow that he felt the strength.
II. And now, look at the perfected victory that is possible. When the arrows, by God’s strength operating through Joash’s arm, had been shot, the prophet says, “The arrow of the Lord’s victory . . . thou shalt smite . . . till thou have consumed.” Yes, of course, if the arrow is the Lord’s arrow, and the strength is His strength, then the only issue corresponding to the power is perfect victory. There is no reason as from any defect of the Divine gift to the weakest of us why our Christian lives should have ups and downs, why there should be interruptions in our devotion, fallings short in our consecration, contradictions in cur conduct, slidings backward in our progress. There is no reason why, in our Christian year, there should be summer and winter; but according to the symbolical saying of one of the old prophets, “The ploughman may overtake, the reaper, and he that treadeth out the grapes him that soweth the seed.” In so far as our Christian life is concerned, the perfection of the power that is granted to us involves the possibility of perfection in the recipient. And the same thing is true in reference to a Christian man’s work in the world; God’s Church has ample resources to overcome the evil of the world. The fire is tremendous, but the Christian Church has possession of the floods that can extinguish the fire.
III. The partial victory that is actually won. “Thou shouldst have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten the Syrians till they were consumed. But now thou shalt conquer but thrice.” All God’s promises and prophecies are conditional. There is no such thing as an unconditional promise of victory or of defeat; there is always an “if.” There is always man’s freedom as a factor. It is strange; I suppose no thinking, metaphysical or theological, ever has solved, or ever will, that great paradox of the power of a finite will to lift itself up in the face of, and antagonism to an infinite will backed by infinite power, and to thwart its purposes. “How often would I have gathered . . . and ye would not.” Here is all the power for a perfect victory, and the man that has it has to be contented with a very partial one. A low expectation limits the power. This man did not believe, did not expect that he would conquer utterly, and so he did not. You believe that you can do a thing, and in nine cases out of ten that goes nine-tenths of the way towards doing it. Small desires block the power. Where there is an iron-bound coast running in one straight line, the whole ocean may dash itself on the cliffs at the base, but it enters not into the land; but where the shore opens itself out into some deep gulf far inland, and broad across at the entrance, then the glad water rushes in and fills it all. Make room for God in your lives by your desires, and you will get him in the fulness of His power. The use of our power increases our power. Joash had an unused quiver full of arrows, and he only smote thrice. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And Elisha died, and they buried him.
The resurrection of a man in the tomb of Elisha; life derived from the holy dead
Death is no respecter of persons; the most illustrious, as well as the most obscure, must bow before his cold sceptre, and depart from the scene of life. This miraculous incident was designed and calculated to make a wholesome moral impression on the mind of the age. It had a tendency to
I. What are the spiritual remains of the holy dead which have a quickening power? What are those remains of the holy dead, which, like the bones of the old prophet, have a power to quicken the dead? The answer may be comprised in one sentence--Gospel thoughts, and Gospel virtues. Such thoughts have a life-giving force. They are the voice that calls up the soul from its grave of sensuality and sin; they fall upon the dead spirit like the quickening rays and refreshing showers of heaven upon the seed that is buried in the soil. What effect they had when uttered by the apostles! By them they woke the slumbering mind of their age, and turned the world upside down; and from the days of the apostles to this hour, whenever they have been brought into direct contact with soul, there has been the touch of life. Who has not felt their power? How often, as they have fallen from the lips of a Christ-inspired minister, have they passed like an electric fire through the audience, startling them with new and strange emotions. Every Gospel thought is charged with a life-giving power. But we say Gospel virtues as well as thoughts. Gospel virtues are but Gospel thoughts in feeling and in action; they are thoughts in their fullest development, and strongest power. It is the Gospel incarnate, made flesh, dwelling and working amongst men.
II. Where are the spiritual remains of the holy dead which have a quickening power? Where are they to be found?
1. In the memory of men. It is a solemnising thought, that the spirits of living men are the resting-places of the thoughts and virtues of men that are gone.
2. In sacred literature. Books are filled with the spiritual remains of the holy dead. They are valuable chiefly on this account.
III. How are the spiritual remains of the holy dead which have a quickening power to exert their quickening power? It was by contact with the bones of Elisha that life came to this dead man; and it is by contact with these Gospel thoughts and virtues, that spiritual life is to be produced. The life of a grain of corn, which contains the germs of future harvests, depends upon contact with certain elements. The energy of explosive matter depends upon contact with fire. A piled mountain of powder is powerless until it is brought into contact with the spark. It is even so in this case; unless we bring our spirits in Conscious contact with these remains they will avail us nothing. How is this contact to be obtained? By devout reflection. The most sacred things and the most powerful elements of truth may be deposited in the memory, yet, unless we prayerfully reflect upon them, they will be foreign to our hearts; we shall never feel their quickening touch.
1. That every age is increasing in responsibility. As good men depart, the world grows richer in the means of spiritual improvement: every soul that lived a holy life here, left behind it elements of life.
2. We must not judge of men’s usefulness by the results of their lifetime.
3. That wonderful revelations may be anticipated on the Day of Judgment. (Homilist.)
The power and purpose of the posthumous life
Death is not the great termination; it is only the great interruption. We are endowed with a being which yearns for endless existence. We have a profound feeling that only eternal existence would justify the Creator in our making. All over the world, especially as men advance in power of reflection, the more fully do they become convinced that the original instinct of the human heart is a Divine implantation, and that man shall measure his duration with the duration of eternity. But when we have said this, we have not said all; when we talk of the boundary, death, being an interruption, we are not thinking mainly of eternal existence in the unseen. There is an impression prevalent among us that, when we come to that boundary stone of our being, we are for ever done with this planet; that we have completed our course, and that there is nothing more to be said; the places that knew us will know us no more; our career is finished; the world henceforth must lack interest and charm for us; we have no more place among the dwellings of men. But that is just the thought I desire to dispute, and I wish to remind you that the interruption which we call death does not deliver even from this world. It only changes the mode of our activity and influence in this world. For there is a life even after the body has perished, and the voice has gone dumb for ever--there is a voice, there is a life that continues among the children of men. And it is to this our attention is drawn by the peculiar narrative read in your hearing. It is not surprising, that the bones of a prophet should make a man alive, nor that the voice of an Abel should sound with strange force down through the generations. When we come to think of the great duties of life, while, of course, we win consult the living, are we not nearly always directed to the dead? A young man has to go out from England, and he knows not whither he is going; his mother admonishes him to take Abraham as his guide, who also went out into Ur of the Chaldees, but who took God with him. A young man is going into a great city, he is to be tempted and tried, and his minister admonishes him to read Daniel, who, in the midst of Babylon, kept his windows open towards Jerusalem, and held communion with the Highest. Another lad is bound to enter upon the great responsibilities of life, and Paul summons to him the admonitions of a Timothy, or some other servant of God whose influence still continues. And when the conscience is burdened with guilt, and the soul burns for peace, it is not to some living minister, to some living Church, to some living power, but it is rather to the death of Jesus Christ, and through that death up to His throne, that the inquiring soul is pointed. And just here we touch on the historic marvel of the ages--Jesus Christ. He illustrates transcendently my thesis. We are fascinated by His earthly career--its purity, simplicity, graciousness, beauty--all attract us. And yet, after all allowances are made for the sick healed, the dead raised, and the outcasts reclaimed, how immeasurably greater has been His posthumous influence than was His brief, humble life! So palpable is this that some theological schools maintain that this surviving influence is what He meant when He promised the mission of the Holy Ghost. It is claimed that just as we feel the spirit of Browning, or of Morris, or of Ruskin, when we meditate on their works, so, whenever we think of religion, the spiritual effluence of our Lord’s life is deeply realised. I am not persuaded that this restriction of His promise is warranted; but still we must all admit that the Christ of to-day is more potent than was the Christ of Nazareth, and that, as the ages roll, He becomes an ever-increasing power on the thought, conscience, and conduct of the individual, and on the movements and development of society as a whole. So that, turn as we may, we find that patriarchs and apostles, and fathers and mothers, and poets and school teachers, and enthusiasts and men of letters, and politicians and statesmen, and preeminently the Christ, all these from out the unseen, are moulding us and shaping us. But wherein lies their peculiar power, because certainly this posthumous life is a most potent life? How are you to explain it? I suppose one reason why it has such influence with us is, that it is the most independent life. The dead respect no one. We are frail, fallible, liable to change; but when the curtain falls, the work is ended. If it is an incomplete thing, like the statue of Moses, it must for ever remain unfinished. No tears can change it, no regrets revolutionise it. There it abides. “What is written is written.” Moreover, this is an enlarged life. It becomes universal. We are all more or less provincial. We are hedged in by our narrow, local limitations. It is difficult for us to rise above them. But when we die, that is all cast aside. Do you suppose when I read Thomas a Kempis I think of him as a Roman Catholic? Not at all. I read his noble words as universal truths; he has ceased to be aught but a Christian. Very well; when death has emancipated us, and we are free of our limitations, then the posthumous life surges onward, influencing and controlling men. And we never really think of Jesus Christ as a Jew when we pray to Him, and carry to Him our burdens and our guilt. The world has lost sight of the localisms of His ministry. To us He is neither Jew, Greek, nor Barbarian. He is quite beyond all racial distinctions. He is the “Son of Man”--the representative of humanity. When He lived He may have been to His followers provincial--but now He has lost the complexion of the old Hebrew race, and has become world-wide, cosmopolite, universal. Moreover, I suppose this power is to be traced to its continuity, to--its indestructibility. There is a charm in that which lasts. The purpose of the posthumous life. I have tried to analyse the power, and what is the purpose? Why is it that God permits us all to share in this posthumous life? And why is it that God reminds you through me of our posthumous life? It is to impart a higher sense of responsibility. It is to teach you in your little day, it is to assure you that your influence will not die with you, however humble you may be. You are starting currents that will flow into the sea of existence beyond your day. You are throwing a stone into the mighty sea of being, and the waves will extend in ever-widening circles until they beat on the shores of eternity. Great is it for a man to live; awful the responsibility. It is likewise the purpose to add new dignity to humanity. For it is responsibility that makes dignity. You are engaged in a work that is marvellous in its power and in its range. Try to understand it, you will be anxious to be fully equipped, you will be anxious to realise fully what the meaning of God’s Word, when it talks to you about a judgment to come. Nor do I think I am far wrong in asserting that we have in this posthumous life a suggestion of what the scientists call the survival of the fittest. True it is “the evil that men do lives after them,” and it is not true that the “good is oft interred with their bones.” There is a famous picture of the battle with the Huns which decided the fate of Europe. It presents the field at night covered with the slain, but over and above the wounded and the dying the ghosts of both armies are seen in deadly conflict. Though dead, they yet fight. So it is with truth and error, right and wrong, virtue and vice, and with the hosts of those who in former ages were arrayed on the side either of light or darkness. The conflict continues, and ultimate victory must rest with the cause of justice and honour. (G. C. Lorimer, D. D.)
Elisha’s last miracle
1. The Jews thought this the crowning miracle of Elisha. Certainly it is unique in the pages of Holy Scripture, and it has also the distinction of being peculiarly offensive to modern thought. The author of Ecclesiasticus sums up his praise of Eliseus, “After his death his body prophesied. He did wonders in his life, and at his death were his works marvellous” (Sirach 48:13-14).
2. Let us look at the circumstances. Elisha was dead and buried. His funeral, according to Josephus, had great pomp. The Moabites were still unsubdued, and infested the land of Israel. Some men were bearing a corpse to burial, when they suddenly “spied a band of men,” and, in their eagerness to escape, thrust the corpse into the open tomb of the prophet, and, upon contact with the sacred body of Elisha, the man “revived and stood up on his feet.”
3. That the men did this with any idea of restoring the man to, life seems scarcely worth discussion. Their intention is manifest in the text. The Israelites did not believe that the dead could raise the dead, though Elisha had raised the dead, when alive, by means of prayers and actions; nor would they have willingly deposited the body of a sinner in the resting-place of the holy prophet. Fear in the emergency led to this action, and accounts for it, God overruling it to His own purposes.
I. The miracle.
1. I should like to notice at the outset what a very short and unadorned account we have of this marvel. It is related within the limits of a single verse. How calm and restrained is the narrative! It gives the simple fact, without any embellishment or note of admiration. This in itself betokens an inspired writer. A similar instance of conciseness and composure may be found in St. Mark’s account of our Lord’s ascension and session to the right hand of the Father: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
2. This is the record of a miracle, and the credibility of miracles is admitted to be a common point of assault in the present day. Perhaps, this arises from looking too much at the miraculous from the lower rather than the higher side. In other words, to fasten our thoughts upon it as an infringement of natural law rather than to regard it as a Divine work, wrought for a moral purpose. The overruling of a lower law by a higher cannot be accurately described as an “infringement,” for it is a part of universal law. A miracle is an exceptional occurrence, to awaken man to a sense of the Divine presence and power.
3. But this miracle is especially “offensive” to the sceptic, because of the instrument which God employed in effecting it--a dead body. When there is a living agent who operates, whether prophet or apostle, the wonder-working is not so far remorea from human experience. The spiritualist resents the idea that there can be sanctity and “virtue” in human remains. And yet, as it has been often shown, there are other miracles in the Bible of a kindred nature, as, for instance, the cures wrought through the touch of the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:28-29), through the “handkerchiefs and aprons” of St. Paul (Acts 19:12), and the shadow Of St. Peter (Acts 5:15).
4. It may be admitted that miracles wrought through martial Objects seem more in keeping with the New Testament than the Old; for now God’s Son has entered into relations with matter through the Incarnation, thereby elevating it, and imparting to it new qualities. But God uses what instrument He wills, and when He wills, for the accomplishment of His purposes; and, as we shall see, the miracle in the Old Testament may be a type and picture of future truth--a dramatic representation, so to speak, of Christian mystery.
II. What it teaches.
1. The sanctity of Elisha. This event seems to be in his history a sort of counterpoise to the rapture of Elijah. Both were victories over death--the one, by his passage up to heaven without subjection to the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 12:26); the other overcame death after he was dead and buried.
2. The power of God,
3. As the miracle was calculated to invest the memory of Elisha with a fresh halo of reverence, and to exhibit the Almighty power of God, so was it designed to breathe hope into the hearts of the depressed Israelites at a period in their history when they needed something to encourage them, and to revive their confidence.
4. Beyond, however, the temporal purpose, there was, we believe, a typical and prophetic significance in this wonder. Does it not point to Christ’s death as the means of bringing back life to man? Although all His acts were redemptive, His death was the principal. “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). He “by His death hath destroyed death” (Proper Preface, Easter). Our reconciliation was effected “in the body of His flesh through death” (Colossians 1:22). But the miracle not only pictures the efficacy of Christ’s death; it teaches also that to know its quickening power we must be in union with Him. It was when the man “touched the bones of Elisha, he revived.” There was contact before there was life. So there must be union with Christ, sacramental, moral, spiritual, if we would be restored; for only “if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death shall we be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5). But the union must be moral as well as sacramental--the one the outcome of the other--for “he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6); that is, the life which God has given within must be, is bound to be, shown forth in the outward imitation of Christ’s life. And this union must be spiritual, the spirit of man corresponding with the guidance of the Holy Spirit--an obedience of love.
5. The text, too, is a type of bodily resurrection, though a return to mortal life.
1. Let us be careful, in our view of nature and of the fixity of natural law, that we do not make God into a “mechanical Deity” (Mozley). The soul, made in the image of God, is “conscious of will” in itself, and therefore “declares for a Deity with will”; upon which the power of miracle follows.
2. God can use what may seem to be the most unlikely instruments for the fulfilment of His designs, inert matter to be the vehicle of life and grace.
3. Observe how God fores to honour His saints, and thereby to make His power to be known (1 Samuel 2:30).
4. Lastly, let us be mindful of the truth that the death of Christ is the meritorious cause of all our gifts and graces, and that through union with Him alone have we spiritual life--“The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25)--the life of grace in the soul here, the life of glory in the body also hereafter. (Canon Hutchings.)
The resurrection at the tomb of Elisha
Several views have been taken of this incident. By some it has been regarded as a mere Hebrew myth; others have supposed that there was an inherent virtue, or life-giving power, in the bones of Elisha, and that the same power exists in the bones of all men of extraordinary goodness. From this point of view it has become a corner-stone of the doctrine of the efficacy of relics. With regard to the first, the occurrence is related as a historic fact as much as any other in the Old Testament, or as much as the raising of the daughter of Jairus in the New Testament. If it is to be rejected because it is a marvel, almost all the historical books of the Bible may be set aside for the same reason. As to the second view, experience contradicts it. We will therefore accept the fact as it stands, assuming that “it was not the prophet’s bones which brought the dead to life, but the living God.” Notice therefore--
I. That the resurrection of a dead man through the medium of the bones of another man is neither contrary to reason nor to the teaching of other parts of scripture. If God gave life to man at first, it is surely in His power to restore it by any means, or without any visible means, and it is not more extraordinary than the clothing of the rod of Aaron with beauty and fruitfulness, or the dividing of the Red Sea at the outstretching of the rod of Moses. The rod was the medium, but God gave the power; the prophet’s bones were the medium, the life-giving power was God’s.
II. That such a miracle was in keeping with the wonderful life of the prophet Elisha. He was a man raised up by God to do a special work. The whole of his public life was marked by miracles. As his predecessor, Elijah, had been honoured by a miraculous exodus from the earth, so it seems fitting that some similar mark of honour should be given to Elisha, either at the time of his death, or after it.
III. The probable intention of the miracle. It was probably intended to revive, in the mind of Israel, hope in God as to the future of the nation. Elisha, on his dying bed, had foretold the deliverance of Israel from the yoke of Syria: their present sufferings from the Moabites would naturally discourage the heart of the people, and lead them to forget the promise, which was not yet, it may be presumed, completely fulfilled. This resurrection by means of hope in Elisha’s Elisha’s dead body would be the means of a resurrection of God. Suggestions:
1. God would have the dust of departed saints remind us of their holy lives.
2. The dust of the godly dead may bear witness that they are still living. Its very contrast to the body when it was animated by the living soul, seems to testify to the fact that they must still be living. We speak of the body as theirs, thereby recognising the fact of their existence. The bones are hero called Elisha’s bones, suggesting, at least, his continued existence although disunited from his human body.
3. God retains His relationship with His children, even with their bodies, after they have left the world. The miracle here recorded is a proof that God was still the God of Elisha. (Outlines from Sermons by a London Minister.)
A dead man’s power
Elijah was carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Elisha died in his bed like other men. Josephus tells us that he had a great funeral. With the death of Elisha there was a distinct letting down in the position of Israel among the peoples round about them, and it was not long before outlying tribes that had been respectful and friendly became arrogant and dangerous. The Moabites soon began to invade the land, not with any large army, but with plundering bands that were very aggravating, and very mischievous. It was the occasion of one of these raids by the Moabites that furnished the opportunity for this miracle. Elisha had been buried, according to the custom of the people at the time, in a cave in the side of a hill, excavated out of the rock. A while after his death there was another death in the community, and the neighbors were carrying the dead man to his burial. The Jews of that time didn’t use coffins, and the body was bandaged and wrapped instead. As these people were carrying the remains of their friend to some tomb in the vicinity of the tomb of Elisha, they suddenly discovered, not far away, a company of armed Moabites, and saw that they had not time to go to the place they had intended for burial. The tomb of Elisha was nearest, and they rolled back the heavy stone from the door and put the dead body into the cave with that of the body of the prophet. But no sooner had the body which they carried touched the bones of Elisha than the life came back to it, and the man revived and no doubt returned home with his friends. We may find a probable motive for this miracle in the fact that it called world-wide attention, so far as world-wide went in those days, to Elisha. It gave him great prestige among his own people. They said about him that he was the prophet “whose dead body prophesied,” and the memory of Elisha’s faith in God, his devout and prayerful life, his pure and noble career, meant more to the people than it could have meant before. This would seem a sufficient reason for the exercise of the Divine power in thus honouring the dead body of the prophet. It is for us to find the spiritual significance of the miracle for teaching to our own souls.
1. We may learn from this incident that the influence of a good man or a good woman does not terminate with life on earth. How true that is in our national life. Who would for a moment contend that the influence of George Washington ceased with the citizens of the American Republic when his body was buried at Mount Vernon? His influence is greater to-day, perhaps, than ever before. And if we turn from these great historic illustrations and come into the narrower but tenderer sphere of our own life horizon, how true it is. How true it has been with us that some of the most important influences in making us the people we are to-day have come from those whose bodies have long slept in the grave.
2. It is certainly a serious and important question for us to ask ourselves, whether the life we are now living is of such a character that after we am dead men will be influenced by it for good. There are those who hear me who can bear witness that they are even now under the curse of dead men. The influence of people who have gone to their account still comes back to them, and affects them, and makes it harder for them to be good and easier for them to do wrong. I can imagine nothing more terrible than that. No doubt Dives remembered that during his lifelong association with his brothers all his influence over them had been evil. He had sneered at goodness; he had mocked at conscience; he had recklessly disobeyed God, and he felt that hell would be more bearable if he did not have it upon him to remember that he had brought his five brothers to hell with him through his influence.
3. If we are to be such vital personalities for goodness that our influence while we live and after we are gone from the earth shall be a revivifying power to awaken goodness in other souls, we ourselves must come into personal touch with Jesus Christ, who alone can bring to life and power all possible goodness in our hearts. The man who was buried in the grave of Elisha was not revived until his body came in personal.contact with the bones of the prophet. So we, though we be dead in trespasses and in sins, snail be revived to righteousness and spiritual living when we are brought into personal contact with the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ was buried in the tomb of Joseph nearly nineteen hundred years ago, but He arose from the dead, and He ever liveth at the right hand of God to make intercession for us. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
Death of Elisha
I. Good men never outlive their usefulness. Elisha had pursued a brilliant career, after the mantle of Elijah fell upon him, for a series of years; then for more than forty years his name is not mentioned in the national annals. It is not certain that God has nothing more for men to do because they are permitted for a period to remain in obscurity after having been prominent. It would have been sadly to misinterpret Providence, if, when quietly caring for the schools of the prophets and contrasting those days of more humble service with his former days of miracle-working and eminence, he had grown fretful and been disposed to question whether life were worth the living unless it could be a grand life. When Luther’s voice was confined within the walls of the castle of Wartburg, and his soul was alternately chafed and bowed down with despondency under confinement which secluded him from what he supposed to be his great work, he was not released from further duty. He did not read on those gloomy walls God’s declaration that there was no more for him to do. No, he was being trained in his imprisonment for still greater service; and he went forth at last more powerfully to struggle because kept in durance so long. When obstacles rise in our path which we feel ourselves too weak to remove, or heights are before us which we cannot scale, or duties demand vigour and perseverance which we cannot manifest, we may not declare that we are no longer Called to serve. God will furnish some station for every watchman, some field for every worker. Every part of a Christian’s life has its bearing on the whole, and no part is useless, even to the end, unless we so determine. God had this brilliance of old-age service in view throughout Elisha’s long years of faithful quiet devotion to his trust, and in not one year was the Master unmindful of the servant or the servant toiling in vain.
II. A good man will be anxious, even to the end, respecting the cause of God. The king seems to have come to the prophet’s house only to express his sympathy and respect. Convinced that he could not live, he wept over the face of the man of God, and called to mind his own exclamation when he saw Elijah parting the heavens in his ascent: “O my father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!” With a kind of abrupt eagerness, as though he felt that he had little time, Elisha called for the bow and arrows--which but for his purpose would be much out of place in such a scene--and by two forms of illustration which were appropriate, he summoned the king’s attention to what he knew to be most important for him. The thought prominently in his mind was twofold: that the king and the people must feel that deliverance from their fears could come only from God; and that the extent of this deliverance would depend on both their faith and effort. If he could not merely say this, but impress it on the king, his high office as prophet would again be magnified, and Israel would again be saved by his agency. The opportunity to do this caused the duty of life to be superior to the possible experiences of the final hour. Heaven was, for the moment, eclipsed by the earth, and the welfare of his people was of more value than his own. The great need of the Church is such complete consecration to God and identification with His cause in purpose and life. Individual comfort, money, position, are little; the glory of God, the kingdom of Christ, are everything. Men change, trot God will abide; men die, but God will live. The venerable Eli heard the messenger from the camp of Israel say that his people had suffered loss in battle, with only ordinary signs of sorrow; that his own sons had been killed, with only the tears which the father could not restrain; but when he said that the ark of God had been taken by the enemy, the aged priest fell back from his seat and died, “for he was troubled for the ark of the Lord.” Joshua after the defeat at Ai must have felt the dishonour that would come on himself--must have been distressed on account of the loss of Israel; but he was unable to express his feelings as he thought of the reproach the Canaanites would heap on their God, and could only exclaim, “What wilt thou do unto thy great name?” Many other instances might be quoted. They all make known the same spirit--a spirit that regarded the highest interests at the cost of any lower--that could bear anything but the overthrow of what they prayed might abide. It has been the same in all ages, and had supreme exhibition in the Lord Jesus Himself. This was the language of His mission and life and death. “Father, glorify Thy name,” was His perpetual prayer; and He and His Father were one in purpose and act as everything personal was lost in the object for which He came.
III. The good man’s influence lives after his body dies. Our posthumous influence does not receive enough of our thought. A man may be forgotten, his name may be unknown, and strangers may tread upon his grave or disturb his ashes to make room for their own dead, but the works he made in life will be seen and the power he possessed will be felt by those who follow him. How often does the form of some friend of other days come back in our thoughtful hours to cheer our sadness or excite our tears! How often do the words of wisdom or folly uttered long since by him awaken echoes in the cells of memory, and his example come up before us now! Whether connected with scenes of wickedness or with the hallowed exercises of devotion, all these affect our character, modify our influence on others, and, insensibly perhaps, but really, change our life. Our graves, in a sense, have a power as had Elisha’s. This is the natural consequence of our social relations, for even existence with another affects both that other and ourself. “No man liveth unto himself, and no man dieth unto himself,” is a law of our moral nature; and character in its very elements is immortal. We feel to-day the influence of men in the earliest times. The vibrations of that subtle medium of communication between soul and soul through which are conveyed the thoughts and feelings of men over the whole world shall never cease, and from age to age they bear their burden to affect the thoughts and feelings of all within their range. So, on the other hand, the labourer in the cause of evil has a power equally endless. We must not measure the curse to mankind of a wicked life by its immediate effects. Paine, that man for whose infamy apologists and defenders have sprung up in our day seeking to hide his deformity, has gone to judgment, but his works and his sins remain to wither and blight wherever they reach, accumulating power as they stretch on. (J. Ellis, D. D.)
The bones of Elisha
I. We have in this incident a striking illustration of the posthumous influence of good men. Nothing in the material world is lost. A grain of sand, however long you crush it, can never be destroyed. You may change its form,--crush it into yet smaller particles,--cause it to enter into new combinations, but you can do no more. The water that is absorbed from the sea is not destroyed; it descends again in showers to enrich the earth. In like manner, human character and influence last for ever. Every man has an influence; in this sense, no man liveth to himself. There is about us all an unconscious influence, what may be termed our personal atmosphere; and there is our conscious influence. The least action or word, even a look,--all make their impression; and issue in results, long after their time. The motion of your hand, or the sound of your voice, produces a succession of pulsations which, like Tennyson’s “Brook,” “go on for ever.” As we thus influence the natural world, so we influence the moral and spiritual world. This unseen yet mighty power, which we all possess, and of which we cannot divest ourselves--which lives in us, and works through us every moment, clothes our lives with a terrible solemnity. Not only is our influence felt during life, it is even felt after we are dead. Our usefulness, or hurtfulness in life, remains in active operation after we are gone. “It may be swallowed up in the great social aggregate, like the rivulet in the river, or absorbed like the dew in the mists and vapours; but it does not, it cannot perish. It survives all the personal fortunes of the individual from whom it emanates on earth; it outlasts the monument, however enduring, that is raised over his dust.” Founders of empires, legislators, patriots, philosophers, inventors, reformers, Christian teachers,--all these live through all ages--
Their speaking dust
Has more of life than half its breathing moulds.
Bad men, as well as good, leave their mark behind them; and perpetuate their influence long after they are dead. Hundreds of years after Jeroboam’s death, we find the people of Israel over whom he reigned walking in his footsteps, committing “the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made Israel to sin.” The writings of Voltaire and Paine and Hume and Byron are a curse to humanity to this day. Thank God! the evil shall be stamped out; while the good shall bear fruit for ever. “The memory of the wicked shall rot; but the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”
II. Good men live after death in the results of their actions. Their conduct centuries, and even millenniums ago, tells on mankind to-day. Abraham’s obedience to God’s command; the legislation of Moses; Paul’s acceptance of the Christian faith; Wickliffe’s translation of the Bible into the English tongue; Luther’s renunciation of popery; all these mark great epochs in the history of mankind, and are felt in the national life and social manners and religious progress of this nineteenth century of the Christian era. It would be easy to instance men of our own time, whose influence will reach on for good through all future generations. William Carey, John Williams, David Livingstone, Michael Faraday, Abraham Lincoln--these and others whom I might name--who shall attempt to calculate the blessings accruing from their character and work? Sometimes, those actions which seem to us the least noteworthy, are most fruitful, and live with mightiest power. The poor widow, when casting her two mites into the temple treasury, was wholly ignorant of the fact that Christ saw her, and would so signalise her self-sacrifice as to make it a pattern for universal imitation. So with ourselves, passages in our lives which awaken no interest in us at the time, or which, if of interest to ourselves, we may not for a moment think of identifying with others, may prove pregnant with great and lasting issues. Sometimes a man’s name may be forgotten, yet his works remain. We know not who invented the plough, his name has perished; but the instrument remains one of the most useful inventions, and indispensable to civilisation. History has not preserved the names of the men who first crossed the sea to preach the Gospel to our forefathers here in Britain; but what wondrous results have followed their apostolic mission! Our own country has been raised thereby to the highest point of greatness, and sits queen among the nations; while from us the Gospel has sounded forth to the ends of the earth. We must die, and after a few years our names may be forgotten; but some action of our life, of which at the time no heed is taken, may become fruitful, even to the distant future, with richest good.
III. Good men live after death, in their writings. A man embalms his thoughts and feelings, the best part of his nature, in his books. “Books,” says John Milton, “contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are. A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose, to a life beyond life.” There is such a quickening power in some books that the dullest and deadest minds that come into contact with them are quickened by their inspiration. The books of Moses, the Psalms of David, the proverbs of Solomon, the predictions of the Hebrew prophets, the four Gospels, the apostolic letters, the visions of John, are among the supreme powers that govern and guide the world. Confucius and Plato and Aristotle still sway their sceptre over human souls. Bacon and Shakespeare fashion men with plastic power. Who shall reckon and tabulate the results of Augustine’s City of God, of Paleario’s Benefit of Christ’s Death, of the Imitation of Christ, of Calvin’s Institutes, of Luther’s Commentary on the Galatians, of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, of Baxter’s Saints’ Rest? Who shall the influence measure of the hymns of Gerhardt and the Wesleys and Watts and Cowper and Doddridge? Dead souls have been born again through them; dark souls enlightened; weak souls made strong; sorrowful souls inspired with gladness and joy. Their
Distant voices echo
Through the corridors of time,
and make the Church of God resonant with praise. The influence of Christian writers is seen in an interesting light, in the way in which one book becomes the parent of another through successive generations. About the close of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, a Puritan minister, called Edmund Bunny, met with a book written by a Jesuit priest, named Parsons; and, excluding the Popery, he recast the book and published it with a new title. A copy came into the hands of Richard Baxter, then a boy in Shropshire; and its earnest appeals led to his conversion. He grew to manhood, became a laborious preacher of the Gospel, and a voluminous writer. Among other books, he wrote the Call to the Unconverted, twenty thousand copies of which are said to have been sold in a single year. Twenty-five years after Baxter’s death a copy of this book fell in the way of Philip Doddridge, a youth at St. Alban’s, and brought him to God. He became a Christian minister and author, writing, in addition to other works, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, which has been translated into several languages, and made useful to many souls. Thirty-three years after the death of Doddridge, William Wilberforce was setting out on a journey to the South of France, and, at the suggestion of a friend, took a copy of this book to read on the journey. The perusal of it led to his consecration to Christ. He found time, amid all his political and philanthropic duties, to write his Practical View of Christianity, a work which has passed through more than one hundred editions, and which, among the upper classes of society especially, has been a powerful leaven of righteousness. When Legh Richmond was a young curate in the Isle of Wight, still ignorant of the Gospel, a college friend sent him a copy of Wilberforce’s book. He began to read it, and could not leave off till he came to the end. The result he thus describes: “To the unsought and unexpected introduction of Mr. Wilberforce’s book, I owe, through God’s mercy, the first sacred impression which I ever received as to the spiritual nature of the Gospel system.” Another copy of the same work taught Dr. Chalmers the way of salvation, and made him such a distinguished preacher of Christ’s Gospel. Legh Richmond, as you know, afterwards wrote the touching story of The Dairyman’s Daughter; and Dr. Chalmers preached and published some of the ablest and most effective sermons of the age. Who knows how this genealogy may lengthen as time goes on; and what other books may trace back their ancestry to the copy of Bunny’s Resolution, lent to Richard Baxter’s father.
IV. Good men live after death, in their spoken words. In this way: a faithful preacher of the Gospel in a town or district will make a mark that remains for ages. Take such cases as Fletcher of Madeley, Jay of Bath, Hall of Bristol, Raffles of Liverpool, Parsons of York, M’Cheyne of Dundee. The places where these men lived and laboured must be impregnated with their speech of past years, as with salt. In the came manner, the words of men of greater note and influence live on a larger scale.
V. Once more, good men live after death, in the memory and experience of survivors. “The immortal dead,” says George Eliot, “live again in minds made better by their presence.” We remember and copy their example. In our recollection of their excellences, we forget their faults, if faults they had. (W. Walters.)
Elisha prefiguring Christ
1. In the facts and incidents of his early history we may find Elisha prefiguring Christ. He came from Jordan, gifted by the hand of Elijah with the power of the Spirit; and surely there is some resemblance here between him and our Blessed Lord, baptized by John in the same river of Jordan, when the Holy Spirit like a dove abode upon Him. Nor can I forget the eminently religious home in which Elisha was brought up at Abelmeholah, “the meadow of the dance,”--reminding me of another home in Nazareth, where even a child understood what it was to be about “His Father’s business.” Is there nothing, also, in the fact that Elisha was called from the plough to be a prophet, and that up to the period when He began His public ministry, the Master, with the sweat standing in bead-drops on His lofty brow, stooped low and worked hard at a carpenter’s bench.
2. In close connection and intercourse with matters of this world, we may find Elisha prefiguring Christ. Like John the Baptist, Elijah to a large extent lived out of the world--away from and above it, in stern sublimity. Elisha, on the other hand, as we have seen all through the course of these lectures, was a citizen of the world, and mingled--as we would say in present day language--in all the great national and political movements and events of his time. In like manner, one of the chief complaints against the Divine Author of Christianity was this: His publicity--“The Son of man came eating and drinking”--and His apparent insurrection against constituted authority. The first was true, for “He could not be hid”; the second was false, for His kingdom was not of this world, else would His servants fight. The Elijah-like type of character--the hermit, the recluse, the solitary--was not reproduced in Jesus Christ. Such a type of character, in fact, was essentially unfitted for a religion that was to conquer the world. Christianity was to be a religion for common life.
3. In his intimate communion with the other world, find another important and apt-to-be-forgotten element in Elisha prefiguring Christ. Elijah and John the Baptist had little or nothing of this. True, Elijah was fed by the ravens, and miraculously sustained by an angel under the juniper tree; yet he had no such revelations and glimpses of the unseen world--beyond “the still small voice”--as were vouchsafed to Elisha. “And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw: and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” “I, even I only, am left,” was the wail of Elijah: to Elisha, on the other hand, was given, in a manner the most extraordinary, the anticipation by hundreds of years of the great Christian doctrine of the Communion of Saints. “Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn which are written in Heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
4. In what I shall term the discerning of spirits, and the reading of the thoughts and intents of the heart, we have another line of parallel in Elisha prefiguring Christ. “Went not mine heart with thee,” said the prophet to Gehazi. When Jehoram, at the siege of Samaria, sent the executioner to take the prophet’s life, “See ye,” said the man of God, “how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head.” Now how innumerable are the illustrations in the life of Christ of Divine prescience and discerning of spirits, as furnished in the four Gospels, I need not stay to tell. “He knew what was in man.” And it is by bringing things to the Master’s test that we, as by a new and subtle sense, can detect insidious unbelief, and transmit the faith of the Gospel pure and inviolate, as the beloved disciple assures us in a passage which is full of much solemn truth. “The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you, but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, end even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” The one infallibility in the universe is in Christ, because Christ is God. There is another side to this thought. If Christ knows what is in man, He is just the Saviour for us, “the sympathising Jesus.”
5. In moral magnetism of character we see Elisha--in an infinitely lower, I admit, but still a sufficiently important and admissible sense--in his work and ministry prefiguring Christ. The attractiveness of Elisha’s character we have had ample occasion during these lectures to see. I think our great painters have seldom been less successful than in painting pictures of Christ. I have seen scores of them; but the face has either been too effeminate, or too colourless and uncharacteristic, and sometimes even too despotic--of all things in the world--to satisfy the portrait of the Bible, or the unpainted portrait of the heart. The best life of Christ is in the four Gospels, and the best pictures of Christ are there also. (H. T. Howat.)
It was a touching memorial to their comrade, the warrior of Breton birth, La Tour d’Auvergne, the First Grenadier of France, as he was called, when, after his death, his comrades insisted that, though dead, his name should not be removed from the roils. It was still regularly called, and one of the survivors regularly answered for the departed soldier, “Dead on the field.” The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews is such a roll-call of the dead. It is the register of a regiment, which will not allow death to blot names from its pages, but records the soldiers who have, in its ranks, won honourable graves and long abiding victories.
Power of the dead
A dead man, if he happen to have made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his; or if he die intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the notions of men much longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all our judgment-seats, and living judges do but search out and repeat his decisions. We read in dead men’s books, we laugh at dead men’s jokes, and cry at dead men’s pathos! We are sick of dead men’s diseases, physical and moral, and die of the same remedies with which dead doctors killed their patients! We worship the living Deity according to dead men’s forms and creeds! Whatever we seek to do, of our own free notion, a dead man’s icy hand obstructs us! Turn our eyes to what point we may, a dead man’s white immitigable face encounters them and freezes our very heart! And we must be dead ourselves before we can begin to have our proper influence on our world which will then be no longer our world, but the world of another generation, with which we shall have no shadow of a right to interfere. (N. Hawthorne.)
Resurrection not unreasonable
This incident comes to us from the workshop of the great chemist Faraday. One day when Faraday was out, a workman accidentally knocked into a jar of acid into a silver cup. It disappeared, and was eaten up by the acid, and could not be found. The acid held it in solution. The workman was in great distress and perplexity. It was an utter mystery to him where the cup had gone. When the great chemist came in and heard the story, he threw some chemicals into the jar, and in a moment every particle of silver was precipitated to the bottom. He then lifted out the silver nugget and sent it to the smith, where it was recast into a beautiful cup. If a finite chemist can handle the particles of a silver cup in this way, what cannot the infinite Chemist do with the particles of a human body, when dissolved in the great jar of the universe. He can handle the universe as easily as Faraday can handle an acid jar, and can control it at will. Whatever the particles of the resurrected body may be, Paul says it is going to be changed so as to become a spiritual body. (Christian Age.)
Christianity’s power to raise the dead
A great fable sometimes encloses a great truth. It is an old story of the Empress Helena, how she went to the Holy Land to find the Cross. Excavations were made, and they found three crosses; but how were they to know which was the true one? So they took a corpse, and put it upon one and another; and, as soon as the corpse touched the Saviour’s Cross, it started into life. Now, you are demonstrating the divinity of Christianity, and that is how you test it--it makes these dead men live..
──《The Biblical Illustrator》