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derision? If water could do it, what needed I to come so far for this remedy? Have I not oft done thus, in vain? Have we not better streams at home, than any Israel can afford? Are not Abana and Pharphar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"
Folly and pride strive for place, in a natural heart; and it is hard to say, whether is more predominant: folly, in measuring the power of God's ordinances, by the rule of human discourse and ordinary event; pride, in a scornful valuation of the institutions of God, in comparison of our own devices.
"Abana and Pharphar, two for one: rivers, not waters; of Damascus, a stately city, and incomparable: Are they not? Who dares deny it? Better, not as good; than the waters, not the rivers; all the waters, Jordan and all the rest; of Israel, a beggarly region to Damascus."
No where shall we find a truer pattern of the disposition of nature: how she is altogether led by sense and reason; how she fondly judges of all objects by the appearance; how she acquaints herself only with the common road of God's proceedings; how she sticks to her own principles; how she misconstrues the intentions of God; how she over-conceits her own; how she disdains the mean conditions of others; how she upbraids her opposites, with the proud comparison of her own privileges. Nature is never but like herself. No marvel, if carnal minds despise the foolishness of preaching, the simplicity of sacraments, the homeliness of ceremonies, the seeming inefficacy of censures. These men look upon Jordan, with Syrian eyes; one drop of whose water, set apart by divine ordination, hath more virtue, than all the streams of Abana and Pharphar.
It is a good matter, for a man to be attended with wise and faithful followers. Many a one hath had better counsel from his heels, than from his elbows. Naaman's servants were his best friends. They came to him, and spake to him, and said, My father, If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
These men were servants, not of the humour, but of the profit of their master. Some servile spirits would have cared only to sooth up, not to benefit their governor; and would have encouraged his rage, by their own: "Sir, will you take this at the hand of a base fellow? Was ever man thus flouted? Will you let him carry it away thus? Is any harmless anger sufficient revenge, for such an insolence? Give us leave at least to pull him out by the ears, and force him to do that by violence, which he would not do out of good manners. Let our fingers teach this saucy prophet, what it is to offer an affront to a prince of Syria." But these men loved more their master's health, than his passion; and would rather therefore to advise, than flatter; to draw him to good, than follow him to evil. Since it was a prophet, from whom he received this prescription, they persuade him not to despise it; intimating
there could be no fault in the slightness of the receipt, so long as there was no defect of power in the commander; that the virtue of the cure should be in his obedience, not in the nature of the remedy.
They persuade, and prevail. Next to the prophet, Naaman may thank his servants, that he is not a leper. He goes down, upon their entreaty, and dips seven times in Jordan. His flesh riseth; his leprosy vanisheth: not the unjust fury and techiness of the patient shall cross the cure; lest, while God is severe, the prophet should be discredited.
Long enough might Naaman have washed there in vain, if Elisha had not sent him. Many a leper hath bathed in that stream, and hath come forth no less impure. It is the word, the ordinance, of the Almighty, which puts efficacy into those means, which, of themselves, are both impotent and improbable. What can our font do to the washing away of sin? If God's institution shall put virtue into our Jordan, it shall scour off the spiritual leprosies of our hearts; and shall more cure the soul, than cleanse the face.
How joyful is Naaman, to see this change of his skin, in this renovation of his flesh, of his life! Never did his heart find such warmth of inward gladness, as in this stream.
Upon the sight of his recovery, he doth not post home to the court, or to his family, to call for witnesses, for partners of his joy; but thankfully returns to the prophet, by whose means he received this mercy. He comes back with more contentment, than he parted with rage.
Now will the man of God be seen of that recovered Syrian, whom he would not see leprous. His presence shall be yielded to the gratulation, which was not yielded to the suit. Purposely did Elisha forbear before, that he might share no part of the praise of this work with his Maker; that God might be so much more magnified, as the means were more weak and despicable.
The miracle hath his due work. First, doth Naaman acknowledge the God that wrought it; then, the Prophet, by whom he wrought it: Behold, now I know there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. O happy Syrian, that was at once cured of his leprosy, and his misprision of God! Naaman was too wise to think, that either the water had cured him, or the man: he saw a divine power working in both; such as he vainly sought, from his heathen deities: with the heart therefore, he believes; with the mouth, he confesses.
While he is thus thankful to the author of his cure, he is not unmindful of the instrument; Now therefore, I pray thee, take a bless ing of thy servant. Naaman came richly furnished with ten talents of silver, six thousand pieces of gold, ten changes of raiment: all these and many more would the Syrian peer have gladly given, to be delivered from so noisome a disease; no marvel, if he importunately offer some part of them to the prophet, now that he is delivered: some testimony of thankfulness did well, where all earthly recompence was too short. The hands of this man were no less
full of thanks, than his mouth. Dry and barren professions of our obligations, where is power to requite, are unfit for noble and ingenuous spirits.
Naaman is not more frank in offering his gratuity, than Elisha vehement in refusing it; As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. Not that he thought the Syrian gold impure; not that he thought it unlawful to take up a gift, where he hath laid down a benefit; but the prophet will remit of Naaman's purse, that he may win of his soul. The man of God would have his new convert see cause, to be more enamoured of true piety, which teacheth her clients, to contemn those worldly riches and glories, which base worldlings adore; and would have him think, that these miraculous powers are so far transcending the valuation of all earthly pelf, that those glittering treasures are worthy of nothing but contempt, in respect thereof: hence is it, that he, who refused not the Shunamite's table and stool and candlestick, will not take Naaman's present. There is much use of godly discretion, in directing us, when to open, when to shut our hands.
He, that will not be allowed to give, desires yet to take; Shall there not, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules-load of earth? For thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice to other gods, but unto the Lord. Israelitish mould lay open to his carriage, without leave of Elisha; but Naaman regards not to take it, unless it may be given him, and given him by the prophet's hand. Well did this Syrian find, that the man of God had given a supernatural virtue to the water of Israel, and therefore supposed he might give the like to his earth. Neither would any earth serve him, but Elisha's; else, the mould of Israel had been more properly craved, of the king, than the prophet of Israel.
. Doubtless, it was devotion, that moved this suit. The Syrian saw God had a propriety in Israel; and imagines that he will be best pleased with his own. On the sudden, was Naaman half a proselyte.
Still here was a weak knowledge, with strong intentions. He will sacrifice to the Lord; but where? in Syria, not in Jerusalem. Not the mould, but the altar is that which God respects; which he hath allowed no where, but in his chosen Sion.
This honest Syrian will be removing God home to his country; he should have resolved to remove his home to God: and though he vows to offer no sacrifice to any other God, yet he craves leave to offer an outward courtesy to Rimmon; though not for the idol's sake, yet for his master's: In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon, to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.
Naaman goes away resolute to profess himself an Israelite for religion. All the Syrian court shall know, that he sacrifices upon Israelitish earth, to the God of Israel. They shall hear him protest, to have neither heart nor knee for Rimmon. If he must go
into the house of that idol, it shall be as a servant, not as a suppliant: his duty to his master shall carry him; not his devotion to his master's god: if his master go to worship there; not he: neither doth he say, "When I bow myself to the image of Rimmon;" but, in the house. He shall bow, to be leaned upon, not to adore.
Yet, had not Naaman thought this a fault, he had not craved a pardon. His heart told him, that a perfect convert should not have abided the roof, the sight, the air of Rimmon; that his observance of an earthly master should not draw him to the semblance of an act of outward observance, to the rival of his Master in Heaven; that a sincere detestation of idolatry could not stand, with so unseasonable a courtesy.
Far, therefore, is Naaman from being a pattern, save of weakness; since he is yet more than half a Syrian; since he willingly accuses himself, and, instead of defending, deprecates his offence. It is not for us to expect a full stature, in the cradle of conversion. As nature, so grace rises by many degrees, to perfection. Leprosy was in Naaman cured, at once; not, corruption.
The prophet, as glad to see him but thus forward, dismisses him with a civil valediction. Had an Israelite made this suit, he had been answered with a check; thus much from a Syrian was worthy a kind farewell.
They are parted. Gehazi cannot thus take his leave. His heart is nailed up in the rich chests of Naaman, and now he goes to fetch it. The prophet and his man had not looked with the same eyes, upon the Syrian treasure; the one with the eye of contempt, the other with the eye of admiration and covetous desire. The disposition of the master may not be measured, by the mind, by the act of his servant. Holy Elisha may be attended by a false Gehazi. No examples, no counsels will prevail, with some hearts.
Who would not have thought, that the follower of Elisha could be no other than a saint? yet, after the view of all those miracles, this man is a mirror of worldliness. He thinks his master either too simple or too kind, to refuse so just a present, from a Syrian; himself will be more wise, more frugal. Desire hastens his pace: he doth not go, but run, after his booty.
Naaman sees him; and, as true nobleness is ever courteous, alights from his chariot, to meet him. The great lord of Syria comes forth of his coach, to salute a prophet's servant; not fearing that he can humble himself overmuch, to one of Elisha's family. He greets Gehazi with the same word, wherewith he lately was dimitted by his master; Is it peace? So sudden a messenger might seem to argue some change.
He soon receives from the breathless bearer, news of his master's health, and request; All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from Mount Ephraim, two young men of the sons of the prophets: give me, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments. Had Gehazi craved a reward in his own name, calling for the fee of the prophet's servant, as the gain so the offence had been the less: now,
reaching at a greater sum, he belies his master, robs Naaman, bur. dens his own soul.
What a sound tale, hath the craft of Gehazi devised; of the number, the place, the quality, the age of his master's guests; that he might set a fair colour upon that pretended request: so proportioning the value of his demand, as might both enrich himself, and yet well stand with the moderation of his master! Love of money can never keep good quarter with honesty, with innocence. Covetousness never lodged in the heart alone: if it find not, it will breed wickedness. What a mint of fraud there is in a worldly breast! How readily can it coin subtle falsehood for an advantage!
How thankfully liberal was this noble Syrian! Gehazi could not be more eager in taking, than he was in giving. As glad of so happy an occasion of leaving any piece of his treasure behind him, he forces two talents upon the servant of Elisha; and binds them in two bags, and lays them upon two of his own servants. His own train shall yield porters to Gehazi. Cheerfulness is the just praise of our beneficence. Bountiful minds are as zealous in overpaying good turns, as the niggardly are in scanting retributions.
What projects do we think Gehazi had all the way? How did he please himself, with the waking dreams of purchases, of traffic, of jollity! And now, when they are come to the tower, he gladly disburthens and dismisses his two Syrian attendants, and hides their load, and wipes his mouth, and stands boldly before that master, whom he had so foully abused.
O Gehazi! where didst thou think God was this while? Couldst thou thus long pour water upon the hands of Elisha, and be either ignorant or regardless of that undeceivable eye of Providence, which was ever fixed upon thy hands, thy tongue, thy heart? Couldst thou thus hope, to blind the eyes of a seer? Hear then thy indictment, thy sentence, from him, whom thou thoughtest to have mocked with thy concealment; Whence comest thou, Gehazi? Thy servant went no whither.
He, that had begun a lie to Naaman, ends it to his master. Whoso lets his tongue once loose to a wilful untruth, soon grows impudent in multiplying falsehoods.
Of what metal is the forehead of that man, that dares lie to a prophet? What is this, but to outface the senses?" Wentnot my heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Didst thou not till now know, O Gehazi, that prophets have spiritual eyes, which are not confined to bodily prospects? Didst thou not know, that their hearts were often, where they were not? Didst thou not know, that thy secretest ways were overlooked, by invisible witnesses? Hear then, and be convinced hither thou wentest; thus thou saidst; thus thou didst; thus thou spedst."
What answer was now here, but confusion? Miserable Gehazi! how didst thou stand pale and trembling, before the dreadful tribunal of thy severe master; looking for the woeful sentence of