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THE ONE DRAWBACK
‘But he was a leper.’
2 Kings 5:1
I. How often is it seen, in human experience, that a condition, otherwise of perfect prosperity, has one alloy, one drawback, which damages or spoils it for its possessor.—We need not confine our observation to lives of great men—written in history or written in Scripture—who have made peace or war, and left their names as the heirloom of one country, or the common property of all—and who yet, scrutinised keenly, have been objects rather of pity than of envy, by reason of some one blessing denied, or by reason of some one ‘sorrow added.’ ‘A great man and honourable with his master … a mighty man of valour … yet a leper’—might be the inscription, if we knew all, upon many of those celebrities of which (to quote the grand old saying) ‘every land is the tomb.’
But is it not so quite in common lives, quite in humble homes? Where is the house in which there is no one element of dissatisfaction—some uncongenial disposition, some unreasonable temper to be borne with—a particular thing that cannot be had or that cannot be done—a difficult task always recurring, a disagreeable future always menacing—a taste that cannot be indulged, or a whim that must be complied with—a dead weight of encumbrance always pressing, and a promised relief always ‘a little beyond’?
II. I propose the example of Naaman as a wonderful lesson in the treatment of drawbacks.—What an excuse had Naaman for a life of idle regret, absolute uselessness, and sinful repining! With what discomfort, with what distress, with what shame and mortification, must each act of his life, social, political, military, have been accomplished! How must he have felt himself the topic of remark or the object of ridicule, amongst all whom he addressed and all whom he commanded! Yet none the less did he do his duty, command his energies, and rule his spirit. Thou who hast in thy health, or in thy work, or in thy home, some like drawback—little it must be in comparison with his—go, and do thou likewise.
III. We take an onward step in our subject when we treat ‘the one drawback’ as ‘the one fault.’—Of how many persons within our own circle must we say, he is all this and that—he is industrious, useful, honourable, he is a great man with his master, he is serviceable to his generation—but he has one fault. Perhaps, he is just and upright, but he is unamiable. Perhaps he is kind and affectionate, but he is untruthful. Perhaps he is excellent in every relation except one. Perhaps he is strict with himself, inflexible to evil—but he is also ungenerous, censorious, suspicious, or even cruel. Perhaps he is charitable, indulgent, good to all—but he takes the license which he gives, and his character (in one respect) will not bear investigation. He is like the ‘cake not turned’ that Hosea speaks of—one side dough, the other side cinder: he was a great man, valorous and chivalrous—but he was a leper.
Yes, the one fault is in all of us—and we mean by it, the particular direction in which the taint and bias of evil in the fallen creature works its course and finds its outlet. It is idle, it is ridiculous, to profess ignorance that there is no such thing as perfection in the creature that has once let the devil in and tried to shut out God—and this is the true diagnosis of man, such as we see and show him—a broken vessel—a temple in ruins—in one word (for none can be more expressive) a fallen being. The one fault is in theological language, the besetting sin. Who has not one such?
IV. So, brethren, try this day the healing stream.—The disease which is upon us goes very deep and spreads very widely—it is past human cure, our own or our brother’s—there is but One Who has the secret of it, but One Who has the virtue. Forgiveness He offers, ere He offers the cleansing—forgiveness of the worst possible, ere He so much as inspects the malady. The double cure—first of the guilt, then of the power—this is the charm of the water which is blood, of the blood which is water.
(1) ‘Herein is the difference between the natural man and Naaman. Naaman knew himself to be a leper; he loathed his leprosy, and desired to be healed. Alas! how difficult it is to persuade the natural man, first to see, and then to bewail his leprosy; to understand that a creature can only be created to obey his Creator; and that when a creature’s nature is so corrupted as to render him unwilling and unable so to obey, then the creature is condemned, and in his unwillingness and inability bears the death-mark upon him.’
(2) ‘The frightful disease from which Naaman suffered must have been a terrible drawback to his happiness and prosperity. It was the occasion, however, of his greatest blessing. The special mercy of God flowed to him from that which probably he was accustomed to consider his special curse. And it often happens with ourselves, that the one thing which at one time seemed to mar our happiness is that to which we afterwards have occasion to look back as opening out for us the way of peace.’
‘O, HOW UNLIKE THE COMPLEX WORKS OF MAN, HEAVEN’S SIMPLE, EASY, UNENCUMBERED PLAN!’
‘But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.’
2 Kings 5:11
Naaman represents human nature, anxious to be blessed by God’s revelation of Himself, yet unwilling to take the blessing except on its own terms: for Naaman saw in Elisha the exponent and prophet of a religion which was, he dimly felt, higher and Diviner than any he had encountered before. He was acquainted with the name of Israel’s God, and he expected that Elisha would cure him by invoking that name. In his language we see:—
I. A sense of humiliation and wrong.—He feels himself slighted. He had been accustomed to receive deference and consideration. Elisha treats him as if he were in a position of marked inferiority. Elisha acted as the minister of Him Who resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. The Gospel must first convince a man that he has sinned and come short of the glory of God.
II. We see in Naaman’s language the demand which human nature often makes for the sensational element in religion.—He expected an interview with the prophet that should be full of dramatic and striking incident. Instead of this, he is put off with a curt message—told to bathe in the Jordan, a proceeding which was open to all the world besides. The proposal was too commonplace; it was simply intolerable.
III. Naaman represents prejudiced attachment to early associations, coupled, as it often is, with a jealous impatience of anything like exclusive claims put forward on behalf of the truths or ordinances of a religion which we are for the first time attentively considering.—He wished, if he must bathe, to bathe in the rivers of his native Syria instead of in the turbid and muddy brook he had passed on the road to Samaria.
IV. Naaman’s fundamental mistake consisted in his attempt to decide at all how the prophet should work the miracle of his cure.—Do not let us dream of the folly of improving upon God’s work in detail. The true scope of our activity is to make the most of His bounty and His love, that by His healing and strengthening grace we too may be cured of our leprosy.
(1) ‘There are two ways of salvation: God’s way and man’s way. Man’s way is unavailing, yet much frequented, because it flatters the pride of man. Man’s way of salvation deals with what it takes to be great things: great works which man himself is to do, great organisations, great gifts, which flatter human vanity and will-worship, but have this trifling defect, that they are of no avail. God’s plan knows nothing of earthly grandeurs, burdensome minutiæ, external observances. God’s messages are very short and very few and simple. He says only, “Wash, and be clean”; “Believe and obey”; “Believe and live.” ’
(2) ‘Proud men do not like God’s way of helping and saving them. Naaman felt insulted when told to go and wash in the Jordan. He wanted to be healed in a dignified way. Many persons reject salvation by Christ for the same reason. It does not make enough of human wisdom and ability. They want to do something themselves, and they like pomp and show, rather than the quiet way in which the Gospel directs them to be saved.’
GREAT THINGS AND SMALL
‘My father, if the prophet had did thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?’
2 Kings 5:13
I. How many persons are there sufficiently desirous of salvation to have been tolerant of a very burdensome ritual, had the Gospel prescribed it, who yet find in the fewness and simplicity of its authorised observances an excuse for disregarding them altogether.—There is evidently something in human nature, not only which is roused by difficulties, but which is flattered by demands. Let a man suppose that heaven is to be won by punctuality of observance, and he will count every added ceremony not only a fresh stimulus but a new honour. And yet the same person cannot be brought to regard with proper respect the moderate and quiet services of his own Church, the humble instrumentality of preaching, or the two sacraments which Christ has ordained. If he brings his child to the font, it is in compliance with the world’s custom rather than with the Saviour’s word. He cannot see that the very simplicity of the sign is rather an argument for than against its Divine origin. If man had had the ordaining of it, certainly it would have been something more difficult, more cumbrous, and more costly. In the same way he refuses to believe that there can be anything beneficial to the soul in eating a morsel of bread or drinking a few drops of wine at the table of his Lord. He asks again, What can be the connection in such matters between the body and the soul? He cannot believe—he will almost say so in words—that it can be a matter of the slightest moment whether or no he performs that outward act of communion which nevertheless he cannot deny to be distinctly ordained and plainly commanded in the Gospel. If the prophet, if the Saviour, had bidden him to do some great thing, he would certainly have done it; but he cannot bring himself to believe and obey, when the charge is that simple one to wash and be clean.
II. The same tendency is exemplified in reference to the doctrines of the Gospel.—They who would have done some great thing will not do that which is less; they who would be willing to toil on under hard conditions, to walk mournfully and fearfully along the path of life before the Lord of Hosts, if haply they might at length attain, by pains and cares and tears, to the resurrection of the just, will not accept the tidings of an accomplished forgiveness, will not close with the offer of a positively promised Spirit; and thus fulfil, again and again, the description of the text, ‘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?’
III. Yet another illustration, drawn from the requirements of the Gospel.—So long as a person is walking altogether in darkness, the demands of the Gospel give him little trouble. They may be light, or they may be grievous, the commands of God are for him as if they were not. If he keeps any of them, it is by chance. But when, if ever, he begins to feel that he has a soul to be saved, how often is it seen that, in the pursuit of some great thing, in the search for something arduous and something new, he loses altogether the duty and the blessing which lay at his very door, in his very path, could he but have seen them, and shows, unknown to himself, a spirit of self-will and self-pleasing at the very moment when he seems to be asking most humbly, what is the will of God concerning him.
How have whole systems of religion been founded upon the forgetfulness of this principle? Men have either gone out of the world, or sought to render themselves or others miserable in it, just because they thought it necessary to do some great thing in order to please God! What is asceticism in all its forms and degrees, the refusal to one’s self of life’s simple comforts, the prohibition of marriage and the commanding to abstain from meats, the substitution of a system of self-torture for a spirit of temperance and of thankfulness, but a neglect of the same wise and wholesome caution, that what God looks for in us is, not the doing of some great thing, but the endeavour to be pure and holy in the performance of common duties and in the use of lawful enjoyments? How true is it, in all these cases, that the easy thing is not always the small thing! He who would have buried himself in a cloister, or forgone every luxury, without murmuring or complaint, cannot bring himself to be an exemplary man in life’s common relations, or set himself vigorously to that which brings with it neither applause nor self-congratulation, the fulfilment, as in God’s behalf, as in Christ’s service, of the little every-day duties of kindness, of self-denial, and of charity, the careful walking in a trivial round, the punctual, loving performance of a common task!
‘May my pride of reason be humbled. “Behold, I thought,” said Naaman, “he will surely come out to me.” So I have my preconceived ideas of how my salvation is to be achieved. But God’s thoughts are not my thoughts; and, if I am to be blessed at all, my intellect must become more submissive and lowly. And may my pride of heart be humbled. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus,” Naaman asked, “better than all the waters of Israel?” So I, too, imagine that I have at home the means and instruments of redemption. I can carve out my own path to the City of God. I can build up my own character. Must I avail myself of a method of deliverance which has been provided for the chief of sinners? Must I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes? Yes, I must. It is only the contrite and broken heart that sees God’s face in love. “Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, and he was clean.” Blessed be God, in the fountain filled with blood I “lose all my guilty stains”!’
‘Behold, now I know.’
2 Kings 5:15
Yes, Naaman saw things differently now. Religion had ceased to be a mere matter of opinion, it had become a matter of personal experience and conviction. In place of ‘Behold, I thought’ ( v. 11), words which we are all ready enough to use on religious questions, he could say, ‘Behold, now I know.’ He was a changed man altogether.
No man’s religion is the reality it should be until he can say with Naaman, ‘Behold, now I know.’ This is the meaning of the Psalmist’s prayer, ‘Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.’ He wanted God so to speak the truth into his heart, that his heart might witness to it with full assurance. Then the prophet’s testimony can be ours. ‘Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me.’ For comfort is no comfort unless you feel it.
Learn then to follow Naaman step by step till you reach the same assurance.
I. Let there be an honest facing of your true condition.—You are a leper in spite of all your good points. Our ‘redeeming features,’ as we call them, are powerless to redeem us. We are sinners, lost, helpless, and unclean.
II. Let there be a direct personal application to the Lord Jesus Christ.—Naaman gained nothing by going to the King of Israel. The Lord Jesus does not cleanse at the command of any one.
III. Abandon all desire to do ‘some great thing.’—Naaman would gladly have done ‘some great thing,’ but if so, he would have returned to Damascus as proud in heart as when he came. By receiving a free cleansing his heart became broken and contrite, and he was able to offer to God the one sacrifice that God accepts.
IV. Let there be the persevering obedience of faith.—Naaman dipped himself seven times.
—Rev. F. S. Webster.
‘There are different kinds of knowledge. There is the knowledge that rests upon observation. Then there is a knowledge that admits of mathematical demonstration. But there is a knowledge equally certain and definite, which rests upon intuition, and comes wholly from within. In all personal religion this kind of knowledge is an important element. We know when we have done wrong, we know when our motives are insincere, when our hearts are rebellious and proud, when our heart is not right with God. Yes, call it what you may, this language of the heart, the verdict of a man’s own inner consciousness cannot be ignored. It cannot be shaken by argument. It is the supreme court of judgment.’
THE COMPROMISES OF LIFE
‘When I bow myself in the house of Rimmon.’
2 Kings 5:18
Here we find Naaman making an excuse, it is said, for dissembling his religious convictions, and Elisha accepting the plea. He is convinced that Jehovah is the true God, but is not prepared to make any sacrifice for his faith. What is this but to open a wide door for every species of dissimulation, and to make expediency, not truth, the rule of conduct?
To state the question thus is not to state it fairly.
I. Even if Elisha did accept Naaman’s plea, it would not follow that he was right.—An inspired prophet is not equally inspired at all times.
II. Did Elisha accept Naaman’s plea?—The evidence turns entirely on Elisha’s words, ‘Go in peace.’ These words are the common form of Oriental leave-taking. They may have been little more than a courteous dismissal. Elisha may have felt that the permission craved by Naaman involved a question of conscience which he was not called upon to resolve. Hence he would not sanction Naaman’s want of consistency on the one hand nor condemn it on the other. He declines the office of judge. He leaves conscience to do her work.
III. Who shall say this was not the wisest course to adopt?—The prophet saw Naaman’s weakness, but he also saw Naaman’s difficulty. Put the worst construction on his words, and you will say he evades the question; put the best, and you will say he exercises a wise forbearance.
IV. We may fairly ask how far Naaman is to be excused in urging the plea of the text.—Superstition mingled with his faith. He was a heathen, only just converted, only newly enlightened. We may excuse Naaman, but we cannot pretend as Christians to make his plea ours, or to justify our conduct by his.
V. The Christian missionary preaches a religion whose very essence is the spirit of self-sacrifice, the daily taking up of the Cross and following Christ.—It is plain, therefore, that he could not answer the man who came in the spirit of Naaman, ‘Go in peace.’
VI. Two practical lessons follow from this subject.—(1) The first is not to judge others by ourselves; (2) the second is not to excuse ourselves by others.
(1) ‘A man’s worship was not in these days merely a matter of his own faith and religious life; it was a national affair, and as such was to be understood, not as expressing a man’s personal conviction, but his loyalty to the customs and the life of his people. Thus Naaman’s proposal was quite intelligible, and the prophet allowed him to carry it out. It was that as an official he might bow in the house of Rimmon, the national god whom the King of Syria worshipped. This would not be misunderstood, for he also asked for two mules’ burden of earth that he might worship Jehovah.’
(2) ‘Have you and I, who are living in the full glory of the sunshine of the Gospel, always the courage to aver our convictions if the avowal will cost us anything? Are we never ashamed of Christ, never ready to climb a step higher by not being righteous overmuch?’
(3) ‘The fact of Naaman’s worshipping Jehovah upon earth actually brought all the way from Samaria to Damascus could not be hid. No one would be left in doubt as to his own religious convictions, or would think that in his heart he was a worshipper of Rimmon. There was no lie, though there was a compromise.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Kings 5". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13