2 Kings 6:1-6
The place where we dwell is too strait for us.
A church-extension enterprise
If there was a church in Israel at all, the school of the prophets undoubtedly constituted a part of that church. They were a communion of godly men.
I. This church-extension enterprise was stimulated by the principle of growth. The old sphere had become too narrow for them, they had outgrown it. This is a principle on which all church-extension should proceed, but in these modern times it is not only ignored, but outraged. Although statistics show that the churches and chapels in England fall miserably short of the accommodation necessary for the whole population, it is three times greater than is required for the number of attendants.
II. This church-extension enterprise was conducted in a manly manner.
1. The best counsel was sought before a step was taken.
2. Each man set to honest work in the matter. “Take thence every man a beam.”
III. This church-extension enterprise encountered difficulties unexpected. “And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood. But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water: and he cried and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed.”
IV. This church-extension enterprise obtained supernatural help when needed. When the man who had lost his axe and was crying out in distress, Elisha, the “man of God” said, Where fell it? And he showed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim. Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it.” (Homilist.)
Age and youth
Few questions are more perplexing than the question as to what should be the character of the relationship between the old and the young. Many of our young people are impatient of the restraints which older people would put upon them, while those who have had long experience of the world are apt to be equally impatient of the impulsive ardour and restlessness of youth.
I. Consider the characteristics of youth. These are well known, and failure to recognise them must mean failure in all dealings with them. “Wisdom comes not to the child.” We must deal with people as they are, not as we wish them to be. Among the characteristics of youth we select a few:--Dissatisfaction. The sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, “Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.” Elisha seems to have been very content; not so the young men. They wanted a larger place. Desire for improvement (2 Kings 6:2). This is the outcome of the other. The desire increases, and the young want to measure their strength against the world.
3. Strength. Compared with the old, the young possess a large amount of energy, so much indeed that they cannot rest.
4. Thoughtlessness. “As one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water.” With the least care on his part that would never have happened. What, then, ought the young to do? Seek the help of those who are older and wiser than themselves.
II. Consider the powers possessed by age.
1. They have knowledge of the world. They know its temptations, how subtle and how persistent they are.
2. They have experience of human life. They have seen lives begun in promise go out in darkness.
3. They know the power of God. They can tell which way victory lies. They have seen Jesus and learned of Him.
On one occasion the wife of General Sir Bartle Frere drove to a railway station to meet her husband. She told the footman to go and find his master. The servant, who had been engaged in Sir Bartle’s absence, asked how he should know the General. “Oh,” replied Lady Frere, “look for a tall gentleman helping somebody.” The description was sufficient. The servant went, and found the General helping an old lady out of a railway carriage. How well it is for men and women themselves, as well as for the world they bless, when they are known by God to be persons who are always trying to help somebody! (Quiver.)
2 Kings 6:2
Take thence every man a beam.
Every man a beam
I. The sons of the prophets procured for themselves what they wanted. The college had become too small. There was not room enough for the increasing numbers who gathered to be instructed at the feet of Elisha. Now in their difficulty these young men might have reasoned something after this fashion. A college is for the good of the nation. The instruction we receive here is to be used by us hereafter in the religious service of the country. The country should, therefore, build us a larger and better house. They might have reasoned in this way and made an appeal to the religious public to help them. And so, instead of appealing to others, they resolved that as they wanted a larger building they would lay down their books, take up their axes, and go out and cut down the trees, building the place with their own hands. In this we have an illustration of an old maxim, that if you want anything done it is best to do it yourself. As regards the ordinary duties of life and the claims of business the preacher has little need to dwell upon this maxim. But we may be permitted to apply the maxim in the realm of church life and work. In every church there are men who are great talkers but little doers. They are ready enough to suggest improvements, to point out what others should do; but as to giving a helping hand themselves, nothing is further from their thoughts. Now I hold that no man has a right to suggest an improvement unless he is prepared to do his part in working it out. If every one who has a knowledge of music took an active part in the psalmody, and allowed his voice to be heard in the song of praise, how much better the worship would be. We are conscious of the need above all things of spiritual blessings, of conversions and spiritual revival in our churches. If every one so conscious would only express himself so in private and at the prayer-meeting, what hallowed prayer-meetings and what glorious revivals there would be among us! Some churches seem to live on the begging system.
II. Every man was prepared to do his share of the work. It was a serious matter even in these primitive times to build a house. The timber had to be felled and cut up into planks of convenient size. This called for the expenditure of strength and skill. By united effort and mutual assistance the arduous task was easily and quickly accomplished. And when there is unity among the members of a church, when every member is actuated by the same spirit of earnest desire for the prosperity of God’s cause, how powerful the church becomes, how manifold the organisations that gather around it, and how efficiently conducted. In a well-ordered church there should be a task for every member. All cannot carry the same “beam.” But every man should carry the load which his strength will allow, and render as much service as he is able. In ordinary churches a considerable sum of money is needed in the course of the year to carry on the ministry and maintain the schools and other societies. When every member conscientiously gives to the cause, not what others give, but what God enables him to give, there would never he crying out for lack of funds. If all who could teach would volunteer for the Sunday school, if all who could pray would show their faces at the prayer-meeting, it would be better for them and for our churches. (J. Menzies.)
Satisfaction of having done one’s part of the work
Several years ago, when the great Cathedral of Cologne was finished, there was a great stir all over Europe. Four centuries had been occupied in the erection of this wonderful building, one of the most magnificent in all the world. People flocked from all directions to take part in the grand ceremonial of rejoicing. It was a large and brilliant and fashionable crowd. But right in the midst of the grandest people stood a humble workman, with torn clothing, a dilapidated hat, and shoes all out at the toes. As he stood there, with his eyes fairly glowing as they took in all the noble proportions of the buildings, he was heard to exclaim: “Oh! yes, indeed, we have made a glorious” building of it!” “Why,” said a gentleman, who overheard the remark, “what did you have to do with it?” The workman turned to answer him, with his eyes still glowing. “I mixed the mortar for a year,” was the proud reply. That is it. We cannot all be builders. Sometimes we may not be able to place even one brick upon the structure. But we can each and every one help to mix the mortar for others to use, for certain it is that if the mortar be not mixed, the building itself cannot be built.
Everything depends on the spirit with which we work the labour of many people amounts to nothing because it means nothing to them. There is no definite grip of purpose in what they do. I saw a little boy take up a rake in a New Hampshire hayfield in July, and he went raking about, imitating the men, except that the teeth of the rake were turned up. The raking was easier that way, but he gathered no hay. I know some preachers and Sunday school teachers and Christian workers who do all their raking that way. They rake a great deal and go through lots of motions, but they rake with the teeth up, and never gather any hay. Good results are only obtained by people who set the teeth of their purpose deep into what they are doing and rake for results; such people bring things to pass. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
2 Kings 6:5-7
But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water.
1. The first thought presented is, when Christ dwells in the hearts of His people there is a deep inward conviction of our own narrowness. The sons of the prophets dwelling with Elisha are conscious of the straitness of their dwelling, and earnestly long for enlargement. So it is with every true child of God. The soul that dwells in Christ and Christ in it is conscious of its straitness. It longs for enlargement. More room for Christ--this is its intense inward breathing. And this yearning cannot rest with inaction. Its course is always onward. “Let us go, we pray thee, to Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, “Go ye.” “Let us go”--that is its motto. This is the only form in which the yearning within can find rest. It carries the soul with it into higher aims and holier aspirations. It lays hold of everything that would lift it nearer to God.
2. But observe, there can be no onward movement, no enlargement of soul, without God’s presence with us. “And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go.” The language of this unknown one is that of every true child of God, under all circumstances. The believer knows that God’s abiding presence with him can alone assure growth in grace, or security against evil. Without the constant presence of the Lord he has nothing to keep him from lapsing into coldness or deadness, nothing to meet the powers of evil that lie so thickly in his path. The presence of the Lord is his joy, his pavilion in trial, temptation, and danger, his light in darkness, and his life in death.
3. We see these remarks confirmed by what happened in this narrative. “So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood. But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water.” Here at this critical moment, the very weapon needed most of all for carrying on the work--the axe-head--suddenly and unexpectedly fell into the water. Alas, alas! how is the wood to be cut down now? How is the building to go on? What are we to do? All is over now! At one sudden stroke everything collapses, and there is a cry of despair. If Elisha had not been with them in this crisis what could they have done? They would have wrung their hands in unavailing sorrow, and the work must have ceased. And are there not such crises in the history of every believer? Has not the Church of Christ, in her passage through this world, volumes of such to record? Some great work of the Lord is prospering when, suddenly, the one who is the very centre of it, on whom it all seems to hang, is taken away by death. Happy for those who have with them the presence of the true Elisha. They “sorrow not as others who have no hope.” Their hope is in God.
4. But notice another truth in the reason given for this sorrow here: “Alas, master! for it was borrowed.” The axe-head was not this man’s own. It belonged to another. See how this applies to the believer. Like these sons of the prophets dwelling with Elisha, he dwells with Christ. Abiding in Him, he fully realises that everything he possesses is only lent. It belongs to another, even God. It is just given him to use for his Master’s glory, and nothing else. It is but the axe-head which is “borrowed.”
5. But now observe what “a very present help” Elisha was: “And the man of God said, Where fell it?” This was all. All the responsibility now was Elisha’s. So is it in the Christian’s life. In all our circumstances the Lord is saying, “What is it? Tell Me.” He is ever asking us to lay before Him these emergencies. He sends them for this purpose that we may “show Him the place.” When this is done He will “undertake for you.” You cannot bring up from the deep that that will fill your soul with joy, but He can. So it was here: “And Elisha cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.” The axe-head--that which your soul needs, that which can alone enable you to make your way, the true Elisha can bring back to your soul. It may seem to you to be hopeless, lost in the fathomless deep; and a world that can see nothing beneath the surface may pity, and write despair on your hopes. But Elisha, Jesus, is with you. “Is anything too hard for the Lord? . . . I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm: and ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.” Oh, trust the Lord! With such assurances as these how can you doubt? He will undertake for you, and the lost hope shall “swim” again before your eyes. You shall “eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God.”
6. Here is presented a picture of death and resurrection. In the axe-head down in the waters, we see man “dead in trespasses and sins,” “far off” from God, a lost and ruined sinner. Who shall go down into the waters of death and bring him up? Jesus, He has done it. “All thy waves and thy billows have gone over Me,” was His cry. Thus He went down to the depths, and brought up the poor lost one. In His death the sinner has died. In His resurrection the believer has “risen again from the dead.”
7. “And he put out his hand, and took it.” Faith is the hand. Have you indeed put it forth, and taken hold of Jesus for your soul? Is it religion with you or Jesus? Which? (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The lost axe-head
Elisha’s recovery of the lost axe-head is a sad stumbling-block to rationalists. The miracle seems to them childish. They cannot explain it away, and they do not like to accept it. The Christian, however, does not sit in judgment upon God’s Word. It is unreasonable to believe in God and to object to miracles; nor are we fit judges as to what is or is not a sufficient cause for God to interfere, as we call it, with His own laws, but to learn more of God’s faithfulness and thoughtful care. The prophet’s college was overfull; there was no tooth for the growing number of students. This was very encouraging. There had been no such difficulty in Elijah’s day; but Elisha had reaped where Elijah had sown. This blessing entailed increased responsibility. It always is so; the reward of work is more work. There can be no standing still or resting upon our oars. The Divine command is always “Spare not,” “Stretch forth.” We must be ever pressing forward, both in the pursuit of personal holiness and in our efforts to win lives for God. They wish to build, therefore, and they go about it wisely. But, in spite of Elisha’s presence, a serious embarrassment arose. “Alas, master,” he cried; “for it was borrowed.” He was an honest man, you see. He might have exclaimed, “What a stupid and worthless tool--the owner deserves to lose it”; or, “That’s not my fault, it was pure accident; what a good thing it isn’t mine.” We must not let our good be evil spoken of. Dishonour often accrues to God’s cause if we are careless about what is due to others. Elisha saw it would be for God’s glory that the axe-head should be restored. But what a beautiful parable the story makes. We are all workers for God. We work with borrowed power. This power may be lost, not only from indolence and neglect, but even through over-energy in God’s work. God’s carpenters sometimes show more strength than skill. The energy of the flesh or the wisdom of the flesh leave no room for God to work, and so the power is lost. Learn then how the lost power can be regained.
1. The man stopped working. Of course, you say; how could he cut down trees when the axe-head was gone? But Christian workers are not always so wise; they think to make up by their own energy and earnestness for the lack of Divine power. They use the haft of human wisdom or ecclesiastical status, although the cutting, driving power of God has been forfeited.
2. He told Elisha at once. That is always the first thing to do. Go and tell Jesus; confess to Him that you have lost the power. In this case the confession was made in public. Sometimes it is well for ministers and workers to acknowledge openly that they have lost the blessing they had. Generally, however, it is enough to tell Jesus. You do not need to tell others; they see it for themselves.
3. He showed Elisha the place where it fell. It is always well to be definite. Confess exactly where it was you lost touch. Perhaps you were puffed up with your success; or you began to distrust and doubt when that trouble came; or you were contaminated by that company; or you allowed that new interest, that book or game, to rob you of your secret time with God.
4. Elisha at once brought it within reach. Interpret as you like, the casting in of the wood. There is one power that always brings forfeited blessing within reach: it is the Cross of Calvary. The precious blood of Christ has brought within faith’s reach every blessing that we need. Bring the Cross to bear upon your lost peace and power, and at once it is within reach.
5. The man put out his hand, and took it. There must be the personal appropriation of faith. He did this at the bidding of Elisha. Do the same at the bidding of the Lord Jesus, who still says to His disciples, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
The borrowed axe
I. That it is the privilege of People to expect and receive Divine interposition, when overtaken by trouble of misfortune, in any laudable undertaking. The enterprise in which these young men were engaged was both laudable and praiseworthy. “Into the water!” What an unusual, perplexing occurrence. How trivial it would have been, if it had fallen on the land. Such is life. It is the unexpected that happens. It is what may be called the stupid and vexatious occurrences of life that cause much of our daily trouble and disappointments. This young man was evidently careless, or he would not have allowed the axe to come clear off. I also learn from this narrative that, if a poor man should have no axe, and not well able to buy one, that God has no objections if he should go to a neighbour and borrow one.
II. That it is the privilege of God’s people to look for and receive Divine interposition in seasons of legitimate anxiety and worriment. Every honest man should feel worried, who has borrowed the property of another and cannot return it according to promise. Christian people, especially, should be very sensitive on this point. A religion that does not make a man honest and truthful is spurned and ridiculed by the world, and justly so, for it is worse than no religion at all. This young man had a noble sense of honour and equity about him. As I look at the Divine interposition, in behalf of this anxious, disappointed young man, I draw lessons of encouragement.
1. Let us be sure, first of all, that the business, the enterprise out of which our troubles arise, is legitimate and proper.
2. That we entered upon it in the right spirit. That, during its prosecution, we sought to go in and out under the smile of God.
3. That our troubles are not the result of our own ignorance, indolence, or sin, but from causes we did not suspect, and over which we had no control. The axe is off, and in the water. Legitimate anxiety and worriment from unusual and unsuspected quarters. The zeal and energy of this young man brought him this trouble. I suppose that some men could have used that axe all day, and it might not have slipped a quarter of an inch, But he swung it as a man who intended to make the chips fly. Therefore, I should say it came off, and all this trouble came on. So, the man who works with both hands heartily, in felling souls for the spiritual temple of the Lord, will be sure to make himself trouble. A cold, formal Church and the wicked world will unite to oppose and do him harm. Indeed, any man who has anything worthy of the name of zeal, in the cause of God, will soon find cause for legitimate anxiety about himself, his reputation, and his work.
III. That God’s method of interposition, in behalf of His people, is frequently through human instrumentality. Elisha was the instrument God used to help this young man out of his trouble. So now, God often helps us, even answers our prayers, through persons to whom he has given the will and power to do it. There are many striking instances of God’s interposition in behalf of His people, in temporal matters.
IV. That, although in this case the interposition was miraculous, the end was not fully secured without human co-operation--“Take it up to thee.” In the Divine economy, man must be more than a mere negation,--he must be more than a passive recipient of God’s interpositions and blessings. He has raised us to the dignity of co-workers with Himself, in the great work of rescuing our sin-cursed race from the service and dominion of Satan. Just as God and man work together in nature, He always doing the supernatural,--producing the seed, and the vast possibilities of life slumbering in the face of nature, and the external influences fitted to call them forth: and man, as though everything depended upon him, clearing the ground, sowing the seed, cutting weeds and thistles, arranging his fields, gardens, and orchards, until the face of nature is a very paradise of beauty and blessing. So in the spiritual world, God’s purpose is that through human and Divine co-operation. Oh for the eager promptness of this young man, in grasping our lost blessings. Reflections:--
1. Learn from this narrative that God is not displeased with His zealous, whole-hearted servant, who by his extra zeal disables himself or loses his axe; and that he would rather work a miracle, to put him in working trim, than to see him lazy and sleepy at his work.
2. That every man who has lost his axe of spiritual power must find it again, or, so far as he is concerned, the work of God is stopped. That one idle man among God’s workmen counts more than one in the aggregate of his influence. His very presence will retard the workman and slacken the movements of many.
3. That in seasons of misfortune, it is well to be calm, and not by our own impulsiveness and imprudence make matters worse. Like the man I saw in a machine shop who chaffed his hand in attempting to put the belt on a machine, and became so furiously angry that he cut the belt in pieces, but had to replace it, at the cost of nearly a week’s wages.
4. That the sinner should not make his case any more desperate by continuing to sin against God. That it is dangerous, unmanly, add very displeasing to God for one to deliberately add to the moral turpitude of his case, thus necessitating a greater miracle of Divine mercy, in order to save him. (T. Kelly.)
The iron axe-head that swam
“Our trials are often the shadows of coming mercies. God will appear at the ebb of the tide. He will turn the year at the shortest winter’s day. When He has shown us our entire dependence upon Himself, He will stretch out His glorious arm, and work deliverance.” The life of the true child of God is as constantly watched over, guided, protected, and blessed, as though the bright spirits who attend about His throne came visibly to minister to the heirs of salvation. The idea that the Almighty One, who made and governs all things, could not so change the usual course of nature as to cause the iron to swim, is simply absurd. In the working of a great printing-press, if any thing goes wrong with the paper, the feeder has only to touch a lever with his foot, and, while the ordinary movements of the press are undisturbed, the impression is not made upon the sheet. The skill and genius of man have brought the laws of nature under his control so far that distant countries are reached by the steamship and the telegraph. And even so, the God of nature bends these mighty forces to suit His own good pleasure, God gave power to Elisha to befriend the disconsolate young man, when he lamented the loss of the axe-head. And in every generation since, He has enabled other faithful ones to do Elisha’s work, and make the iron to swim. The trifling and licentious Charles the Second locked up John Bunyan in Bedford jail, and kept him there with his Bible for twelve long years. There the despised tinker wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress, and that iron is likely to swim for many ages yet to come. The lukewarm age in which we live is satisfied with ordinary prayers, ordinary faith, ordinary works--and, hence, it has to put up with ordinary blessings. The power of God to do wonderful things is none the less than in ancient days; and His hand only seems shortened, because the faith has died out in selfish, worldly hearts, that “All things are possible to him that believeth “ (Mark 9:23). (J. N. Norton.)
The restoration of the axe
It cannot be denied that the restoration of the lost axe was miraculous, if we consider--
1. That the man who lost it appealed to the prophet, and to him alone, for help in his extremity, as the only person who could help him, because he was the only person to whom it was given to exercise supernatural power.
2. That the axe came to the surface at the very spot where it was dropped. The Jordan is a rapid river, and if the axe had floated from any natural cause, it would have risen to the surface lower down the stream.
3. The means used to raise it were in no way adapted to the end in view. The narrative suggests--
I. That the accomplishment of the great works of the world depends very much upon keeping little things in working order. A great victory may be lost by the snapping of the linch-pin of an artillery wheel. The sons of the prophet could not raise a house to the honour of God without the help of an axe. “Great weights hang on small wires.”
II. That what is small and what is great depends entirely upon its relation. To many men the loss of a five-pound note would be a mere trifle, scarcely worth the mention; to millions it would be the loss of all their ability to feed and clothe their families for many days. So there were many men in Israel to whom the loss of an axe would have been nothing, but to this member of a poor community it was a misfortune so serious that it could only be remedied by a miracle.
III. The smallest trouble which comes upon a servant of God, or upon a community of men engaged in his service, is a matter for Divine help. The Lord God Almighty is indeed the “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isaiah 57:15), yet He “considereth all the works of men” (Psalms 33:15), “His eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men” (Jeremiah 32:19), and “He dwells with him also that is of a humble and contrite spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). This is sufficient to account for His interposition in the matter of the lost axe. (Outlines of Sermons.)
Oh, how frightened some people are of these miracles! A young fellow-student and a preacher to-day, under the influence of modem criticism, told me that he could not swallow this miracle--he is very narrow in the swallow anyway!--he could not swallow this miracle about the axe-head that swam, “because, you know,” he said, “it has a suspicious look about it. I’m all right, I trust,” he said, “I’m all right upon the miracles of our Lord. But between you and me, M’Neill, that miracle, you know, is not ethical.” That is the great word, “ethical”; if you are not ethical, you’re not in it. “It is not ethical!” I said. “Well, now, that is very funny. It is very ethical, according to me. Do you mean to say,” I said, “if you borrow an axe-head from me, that it is quite ethical to come back with a bit of stick, and the head . . . gone! Why,” I said, “the miracle is bottomed upon ethics. God was so anxious that the axe should be given back by the fellow who borrowed it, as he borrowed it, that He worked miracles on behalf of the ethics that underlie borrowing and lending.” And then he said, “I have no difficulty about the miracles of our Lord, because they are ethical.” “Well now,” I said, “there is one of our Lord’s miracles, and if you are squeamish about the axe-head that swam, then logically you ought to be squeamish about it, too, although our Lord worked it, for it is this kind of ‘grotesque miracle ‘--making a display of Divine power. You remember,” I said, “one day when our Lord had to pay His taxes and He did not seem to have enough loose money about Him--it is a kind of pathetic touch, you know--He did not have enough loose money about Him, but He evidently considered tax-paying ethical, and He wanted to pay them, and, of course, tie might have borrowed from somebody, or He might have got it in some way or another; but in spite of these critics He went away and made a display of the miraculous, and He said, ‘Go to the sea and cast in a hook, and the first fish that comes up you will find my taxes in its mouth.’“ The pride of intellect. Oh, if you are troubled, and if you boggle and stumble at the miraculous, Jesus will be the biggest stumbling-block and rock of offence of all the miracle-workers in the Bible. (John M’Neill.)
The French Marshal Turenne was the soldiers’ hero. He shared in all their hardships, and they entirely trusted him. Once when the troops were wading through a heavy morass, some of the younger soldiers complained. But the older ones said, “Depend upon it, Turenne is more concerned than we are; at this moment he is thinking how to deliver us. He watches for us while we sleep. He is our father, and would not have us go through such fatigue unless he had some great end in view which we cannot yet make out.” How much happier and stronger we should be if with this kind of simple confidence we trusted the Captain of our Salvation, Jesus Christ, who came on earth to share all our hardships! (Quiver.)
2 Kings 6:8-23
Then the King of Syria warred against Israel.
Elisha at Dothan
Seeing the invisible! Here is the young business man. He spends his days in a close and musty counting-room, casting up interminable figures, or behind a distasteful counter, selling goods. But he sees something more than the ledger and the counting-house and the dry goods. He sees a beautiful home, and a warm fireside, and a happy family, and an easy competence for old age. It is this glimpse of the invisible that makes him toil on, early and late, uncomplainingly and patiently. Just so is it with the inventor. There was Palissy, the potter, who laboured sixteen years to perfect his invention. But he saw something more before him than the clay and the potter’s wheel. He had in his mind’s eye all the time the beautiful vase which, after those wearying years, he should produce. Howe had before him the perfect sewing-machine while working away at his crude experiments, and Morse had in his mind’s eye the perfect telegraph machine, and Stephenson the perfect locomotive--long before any one else could perceive these machines. It was the vision of the invisible which gave these men courage. Nothing great or good would ever have been accomplished did not these visions of the unseen beckon men on to glorious deeds. Nay, we could not endure this treadmill life, we should die from very weariness of doing the same thing over and over, did not these glimpses of the invisible spur us on. Surely, then, this lesson which Elisha at Dothan teaches us of the unseen power of God is of the utmost practical importance. If we realised the unseen as he realised it, we too should always be brave, and calm, and trustful. In order to obtain a more definite impression, let us ask what are the characteristics of this unseen spiritual power, as here revealed?
I. In the first place, its might and plenitude are taught us. The forces of God which are fighting for our souls, if we could only see them, are more and stronger than the forces of the devil which are fighting against our souls. However full of evil and temptation this world which we see and feel may be, the unseen world is more full of motives and incitements to truth and righteousness, could we but gain the vision. The drunkard often urges, as his excuse, that his appetite is so strong that he cannot overcome it; the worldly man allows his love of money to master every other impulse; the libertine lets his lusts win the victory; and then these men whine that temptations and circumstances and environment are too strong to be resisted. But all the time the hosts of God are round about and ready to do battle for them, if only they are called upon, and these hosts are stronger than appetite and avarice and lust. All the time the crown hangs over their heads; and the crown, if they would but see it, is more attractive than the muck-rake;
II. That these invisible powers of good are very near us. The invisible horses and chariots of fire were round about Elisha. The hill on which Dothan stood was full of them. The young man had only to open his eyes, and there they were. The clanging chariots and neighing horses of the Syrians were no nearer to the man of God than were the heavenly steeds. I have read the story of an escaped prisoner in our late war, who wandered for many days and nights, seeking the Union lines. At last, in the dusk of early twilight, he came to a camp which he supposed belonged to the Confederates. Before he knew it he was surrounded by the pickets and captured, to be hurried back to prison, as he thought; but what was his surprise and joy, on looking a tittle closer, to find that it was the Union blue, and not the Confederate grey, that the soldiers wore. He had been captured by his friends. When he thought that his friends were far away, they were all about him. O wanderer, and fugitive from God, lift up your eyes, the hosts of your friends surround you. God is near you.
III. The agency of prayer in revealing the invisible. Over and over in this brief story does the prayer of the faithful prophet move the arm that moves the world. In answer to his own devout prayers, doubtless, he saw the invisible hosts himself, so that he could calmly, trustfully say to his servant, “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.” How often has this been illustrated in other lives than that of Elisha. When the wise men could not interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel prayed to God, and his three corn-pardons joined him in prayer. “Then,” says the simple Bible narrative, “was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.” “Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven, and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are His. He revealeth the deep and secret things; He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with Him.” “There is a God in heaven which revealeth secrets,” is his bold and confident affirmation to the king.
IV. The symbol which God used to cheer and encourage His servant at Dothan. He sent heavenly horses and chariots, and filled the mountain with them. The very same means which the enemy used to distress and terrify him, God used to defend and encourage him. Every Syrian home that had come to harm was duplicated by a heavenly steed that had come to save. Every hostile chariot had for its double a friendly chariot. The enemy could send nothing against him which God could not match, and more than match, in his defence. Here, too, is a helpful thought for us. It seems to us that Satan is more ingenious and more mighty than ever. He adapts himself with such nice skill to each particular age and phase of life. It looks sometimes as though he had the mastery, and that nothing could overcome the horses and chariots with which he assaults us. The evils of our times are peculiar, we think. Intemperance, Sabbath-breaking, lax divorce laws, dishonesty, worldliness in the Church--over all this catalogue of evils we groan, and think that never was such a host of the devil’s horses and chariots arrayed against God and truth. But if our eyes could be opened, we should see that the hosts of evil are exactly met and matched at every turn by the hosts of God. We should see that, nicely as the powers of darkness are adapted to pull down, the powers of light are better adapted to build up; that God is always ready for the emergency; that there can never be a horse and chariot of evil which He cannot exactly match and overcome. (Monday Club Sermons.)
God’s people may make use of these words in reference to their adversaries oftener than they think of; but let no one apply them lightly; it were sad to make a mistake in such a matter. As regarded Elisha, The could show proof of what he asserted. It would appear that the prophet was, so to speak, the visible representative of the Providence of God, which was engaged for the preservation of His people.
1. Observe the proof we have here of the long-suffering of God to His people. Much provocation had Israel given Him by their idolatries and backslidings, but still they were helped and forewarned of coming danger, and were furnished with innumerable proofs that the God of Israel was the supreme Lord of all the earth. And it was only when all means failed, and Ephraim was joined to his idols, that God at length gave him up to the spoiler.
2. Another reflection is suggested to us by the miserable suspicions of Ben-hadad. This man waged an unrighteous war with the people of Israel, and was therefore engaged in a nefarious course, and when things went against him he was ready to fancy all sorts of treacherous defections on the part of his servants. What a dreadfully bad time of it they must have had with him when his affairs did not prosper as he expected, and his unworthy suspicions were hatching! Many an innocent man would be regarded with the dark scowl of aversion, and many a faithful one must have seen that his lord and master held him in distrust. And not one of them might speak a word concerning that which every one must have seen.
3. Elisha’s way of treating the Syrians is worthy of consideration. And let us at once confess that it is unlawful in any circumstances to tell an untruth, and this will show that in our opinion Elisha told none. On the contrary, it will appear, upon strict examination, that he spake what was literally true. He was no longer in the city, for he had advanced to meet them; and when he had brought them to Samaria, he kept his word and revealed himself to them, although it was then their turn to be in fear. If that explanation will not suffice, and if it be supposed that in certain conditions a person may say what is untrue to promote some good end, it will be well that any one who is of this unsafe opinion shall only act upon it when he is assured of having the same monitor as Elisha had to guide him. If, on the other hand, exception be taken to the fact that Elisha meant to deceive the Syrians, we have no defence to offer, because it is our belief that none is required.
4. In the perusal of this and other passages of Scripture in which the wonderful power of prayer is recorded, it will be well to have due regard to the circumstances in which these instances occurred. Any one who should attempt to foil an army in our days by means of prayer and no other weapon, as Elisha did, would run a great risk of being mocked for his pains, without any advantage to set over against it. We are to remember that Israel was the visible Church, and that God was pleased to afford miraculous proof of the care and superintendence which He exercised over it. Besides, prayer was the only means at Elisha’s command. He never advised the king to disband his army, and trust entirely to his prayers for the preservation of himself and the nation. But the power of prayer may not be less now than it was in ancient times, although its effects are less apparent. (J. Murray.)
Within the circle of flame
I. The saint’s power and peril.
1. Observe to what heights of power a saint may come.
2. See how Peril waits on Piety that comes to Power. Where is the marauder who can calmly brook the parrying hand of a saint? “Let us alone, what have we to do with thee?” cry the lawless when checked by the godly. Ambition turns to rage, foaming like baffled breakers at the cliff-foot.
II. Within the flame-circle, and at rest. Two men stand in the seraph-ring. One is a saint, the other a possible saint. One is serene; panic takes the other. Elisha’s serenity is the quiet of a man all of whose heart-strings are lovingly held in the hands of Infinite Power--a quiet which is only broken by rising praise, as a wave will sometimes edge up, whiten, and turn in music in the midst of a gentle blue sea; or by that profoundest of merriment, the laughter of a fearless soul facing peril. In the processes of sublimation Elisha has become conscious of an ever keener sight for the life men call unseen; and of a familiarity with that border-land of human life, and that infinite beyond out of which heavenly helps come trooping. Serenity is the still air, drenched in smiling light, that enwraps the soul that traffics steadily with God the Undaunted, God the Unshakable. It is the quiet breathing of faith cradled in “the everlasting arms.”
III. Within the circle, yet afraid.
1. Elisha’s servant is trembling. He is like “a reed shaken with the wind” at the foot of a granite crag. Though the ring of fire belts them twain, he does not attain serenity. Where Elisha saw the sun-white host his servant found a blank. The blank upon the hill coincided with a blank in his soul. Little did it avail him that his eyes were young and keener to detect the common furniture of earth than the old man’s--his master’s. Even had Elisha been stone-blind, and the youth’s eyes so superb that he could fix the forms of flying motes; or tell the spot a mile beneath grey seas where the Euplectella hides its loveliness in slime; or figure forth the astral systems careering in the infinite beyond the glittering fence of the Milky Way, such seeing would not be worth a thought beside the vision, the ever-widening, ever-strengthening vision of the seer’s pure and spiritual heart. All life’s advantages are not the heritage of youth. Holiness is heir to more and greater. The lamp of faith illuminates a wider and a gander world than the shining of the sun.
2. The seer who has saved his king now saves his own servant. Deep in saintliness, as an integral part of it, is this amazing versatility of helpfulness. Away over the young man’s head flies Elisha’s prayer. Every day such intercessions flock heavenward, carrying often the ripest faith and love the Church Militant can show. (J. Dunk.)
The encompassing defence of the faithful
I. That the greatest forces in this world are the forces which we call spiritual and invisible, and the strong, brave, fearless men are the men who believe in these forces, lean upon them, and in a certain sense see and grasp them. It is not so with the man of facts and figures, with what the Bible calls the darkened mind of the children of this world. He sets at nought all that he cannot see and measure. He stupidly thinks that the five senses take in everything. He takes stock of his material resources, counts men, weapons, machinery, and money, throws in perhaps a little brain, scientific knowledge, intellectual smartness, and then concludes that he has all the equipment which he needs for life’s battle, or at least all the equipment which it is possible to gain. Turn to the Bible, and you at once get into the company of men whose might is in other weapons, who are covered with the invisible panoply of God, and who see around them the spiritual chariots and horses. They take little account of material masses and numbers. They laugh at huge figures. A grain of faith outweighs the resources of a kingdom. And there is no question about their heroic strength and fearlessness. The sceptic would call it imagination, but it is the kind of imagination which invests them with wonderful power. For these men are the world’s masters; they have all a touch of the superhuman. Moses defying the might of Egypt; Gideon with his little regiment charging the vast army of Midianites; Elijah in lonely grandeur challenging the furious rabble of Baal’s prophets; Daniel setting at naught the king’s princes, nobles, and hungry lions of Babylon; Peter and John scornfully resisting the browbeating magistrates. Magnificent figures were all these. We would give all our goods to be like them. Yet it was simply their belief in the unseen forces which made them what they were. They saw the fiery chariots and the armies of heaven. They knew that God and Omnipotence were on their side, and only the fickle whims and passions of men against them.
II. It is always these unseen forces that we reckon upon in our Christian warfare to-day. What we call faith is just Elisha’s vision and the steadfast heart which it brings. Faith, if not actually compassed about by invisible armies, is nerved, inspired, and energised by thoughts, upliftings, and confidences which make a man more than a match for his fellow-men. Without that, the battle for God’s truth and roll, on would be a forlorn and wretchedly hopeless business. The valiant fighters in it are always outnumbered and overmatched. Religious censuses would fill us with despair if we weighed spiritual forces in ordinary scales. Where there is one man mightily earnest in this struggle there are ten standing aloof, and ten more lukewarm. The odds are all apparently on the evil side. Yet we never lose heart until we have lost all faith. We are always optimists until our eyes become blind to the unseen forces. These unseen forces are operating on every man. We have allies in every man’s heart. When he is most against us, there is something in him that is for us. Every man has occasional visions of the fiery chariots. There is a judgment throne which he can never wholly forget. There is an eternal righteousness which he knows he must reckon with. There is something in every man which secretly sides with the good. There is conscience, and memory, and unrest, and a lurking fear of the very God whom he denies. The warfare is not unequal, as it seems.
III. Remember that these and countless unseen forces are over and around every one who is resolutely bent on living the Christian life. We often hear of the difficulties of the Christian life. I think we hear more about its difficulties than about its helps. We get into the murmuring vein of the children of Israel, who were always magnifying shadows into mountains and ordinary fees into terrible giants. Yet surely there is another and brighter and diviner side to all that which the darkened eyes do not see, and which the despondent mind often forgets. There are many things against the godly life, but there are more things for it. Yes, we have more helps than temptations, more inspirations than discouragements, more incentives and wings than drawbacks and chains. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
I. God is the protector of His people. Was Elisha so much dearer to God’s heart than His other children that for him alone the forces of heaven came down to earth? Cannot all God’s people say, “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge”?
II. The reality and nearness of the invisible world. The unseen is not the unreal. It needed just the opening of the eyes, and nothing more, to reveal to this young man agencies unseen and unsuspected before. We are citizens of two worlds--one material, the other spiritual. We cannot too frequently remind ourselves of this fact: that the world we see is not the only one in which we live. All about us is another, vast and mighty, although invisible and silent. When Dr. Judson was at Rangoon for the last time, endeavouring to gain a footing for the Gospel, he heard one day that the savage Burman magistrate had stationed guards with orders to seize every native seen coming out of the house of the teacher. Mrs. Judson writes: “I shall never forget the expression of my husband’s face, as though really piercing to the invisible, when he exclaimed. ‘I tell you, if we had but the power to see them, the air about us is thick with contending spirits, the good and the bad, striving for mastery.’ However many and strong our foes, our friendly helpers are yet more numerous and powerful. Elisha’s bodyguard was more than a match for the Syrian host. Rank upon rank they stood about him, countless as sunbeams; chariots that were billows of fire, and horses that were clouds of flame. So God’s defending hosts surround His people, invisible, innumerable, invincible.
III. The ministry of the angels. As sons of God by creation, we of the human race do not stand alone. There is another race of intelligent beings, to whom, by the fact of a common fatherhood, we are nearly related. They are our brethren in the household of the divine offspring. They are the elder, we the younger, born. With them there is neither childhood nor age, for they came into being, not by successive generations, but swept forth in all their glittering hosts, full-statured, at a single fiat of creative will. They are no flock of idle dreamers, sauntering along streets of gold, lying on fleecy clouds, listening to the music of fountains, their gravest task to practise psalmody and carry their part in some grand chorus. The word assures us that they are employed, every one, in rendering service in this earthly life to them who are heirs of salvation. There is something impressive and stimulating in the thought that we are constantly surrounded by these unseen helpers. No power of evil can avoid their scrutiny. Wherever a foe lurks an angel watches. They attend us in our solitudes, walk by our side in danger, and mingle with us in our solemn assemblies. Over the sorrowing, the tempted, the toiling, the dying they bend in true and tender sympathy. (George W. Brown.)
Dothan is not an unusual place for the at least occasional residence of a Christian man. Sometimes the Christian man is in the Dothan--
Beleaguered Dothan is not a place so unusual for a Christian man to stand in. But, in the ancient story, Elisha, though in Dothan, and so beleaguered, was not fearful. It is a good thing, amid the stress and strain of life, to count up our allies. I have often found great heartening in doing it.
1. Though a man be in Dothan, God the Almighty is his ally.
2. Consider further, though a man stand in Dothan, Christ the Saviour is his ally. The Saviour is evidence
3. Consider further, though a man be beleaguered in Dothan, the Holy Spirit is his ally. John 16:1-33. is full of promise here.
4. Consider further, though a man be in Dothan, good angels are his allies (Hebrews 1:14).
5. Consider further, though a man be in Dothan, God’s Providence is his ally (Romans 8:28).
6. Consider further, though a man be in Dothan, God’s Promises are his allies. Fear not, therefore, because of oppositions, because of your weakness, because of your mistakes, because of your sins even, because of death. Count up your allies. “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
Secure amid perils
It is related that, on the first awful day of the fight against fire made on board The City of Rome, the passengers had been driven out of the forward cabins and their quarters were shifted aft. It was impossible to set the evening meal in the first cabin, and it was spread aft also. It is a remarkable fact that the discipline of the ship made it possible to serve the evening meal, and perhaps still more remarkable that most of the passengers gathered at it, and many of them enjoyed it. In fact, it was even a cheerful meal, and the prevailing spirit seemed to reflect the motto of the Atlantic Line, “Secure amid Perils.” If voyagers could sit down and eat their dinner quietly and with good cheer, knowing that they were hundreds of miles from land and an awful fire was raging, in the hold underneath them, because of their faith in the captain and the heroic fidelity of the crew, how much more should we on the voyage of life trust the Great Captain, and face the storms of human living with good cheer and confidence, (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
2 Kings 6:17
Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.
The power to see
Here is a scene which is worthy of the pencil of the finest artist, but a scene of such simplicity and beauty that no artist could improve it. It represents the triumphal struggle of simple unarmed truth against the massed and mailed battalions, of error. It brings before us a man, with a great soul of love, standing up in the omnipotence of his faith to defy kings and all their hired hosts. Lessons of this kind are to be found on almost every page of history. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” It is to the thinker, the seer, the godly, that the victory belongs. He believes more than others because he sees more. He lives in two worlds, and draws his forces from both. The chariots and horsemen of truth are ever about him, and he sees them, though others near to him have no eyes to see. This is the plain story of the incident with which our text is connected. In looking at the account one cannot but be impressed with Elisha’s strong and unshaken confidence. His servant was blind and was greatly stricken with fear. He had not yet formed the habit of looking at things invisible. He could take stock of material masses but he had no perception of spiritual forces. Ten thousand men with their chariots, horses, and swords were to him stubborn facts; facts which, to a certain extent, he could measure and calculate. But the powers on the side of his master he could neither gauge nor understand. He could appreciate Elisha’s skill, he knew how brave he was. But he also knew that Elisha was only one, and that if he added himself--though his poor faltering heart would make a very bad second--that, even then, there would be ten thousand with arms to two without arms. No prospect could be more unpromising and gloomy. It looked as if they might as well dash themselves against the mountain as contend against a force so numerous and well equipped. Then it was that the prophet’s faith and confidence shone forth. With two clear eyes fixed on the unseen, surveying with the wondrous look of spiritual insight the immeasurable forces of the living God, he answered cheerfully, “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they which be with them,” and then looking at his servant, and pitying his nervous terror, he added, “Lord, I pray Thee, open his eyes, that he may see.” There are spiritual truths taught by this incident which are of considerable value. Here we see,
1. That that which gives to men master-hood and confidence is the power to see. What is it that makes the difference between the great man and the small man--between the thinker and the clown--between the hero and the coward--between the saint and the sinner--between the Pauls and the Neros? You may say that there are a hundred things which go to make up this difference. But analyse them and you will find them to centre mainly in one. The greatest and wisest and purest men are in some sort prophets--or seers, as they used to be called; men who see further, see deeper, see more than other men. Your poet is not a mere manipulator of words, a jangler together of rhymes. He is one who sees flashes of resemblance, brilliant analogies, angelic and heroic thoughts, where ordinary men see nothing but what is common and uninteresting. Your artist is one who can see more in a tame Dutch landscape than others can see in an Italian sunset or in the snowy Alps. Your sculptor can see more in a rugged, unwashed gipsy than the common eye can see in a white-robed angel. Sometimes we look upon these men as creators. But they create nothing; all is created for them. What they do is simply to see that which they find. “George Eliot” used to weave her wonderful romances out of the common facts of common homes and common lives. She seemed to linger by loving preference among that which was common; yet she found miracles and marvels and thrilling episodes from every page. She did not create them, she found them. They were there all the time; all that was wanted was the open eye, the power to see. AI! the great leaders and thinkers at whose feet we have sat for instruction, or by whose words and works we have been charmed and soothed and inspired, have “been simply men and women who have looked at things with larger eyes than others. They have been the world’s masters because they have seen more than the servants have seen. Christ saw what blind eyes could not see, and He was therefore calm and joyful, even in the presence of agony and death. To others there were only the cross, the jeers, the wails, the fierce cries of a drivelling multitude. To Him there was a great world beyond. He could recognise a moral power knitting together the hearts alike of men and of nations. Some tell me that a man’s life is rich in proportion to his material possessions. No fallacy was ever more misleading; a man is rich only in proportion as he has power to see. One man will find more pleasure in a flower which he is too poor to buy than another will find in some earthly paradise which is all his own. A book which cost fifty cents is a richer treasure to some than is a mission which costs ten thousand dollars a year to others. A chapter in the Gospel is a richer field of gold to many a humble soul than is a lordly estate to a wearied voluptuary whose vision is bleared by excess and debauchery. It is not,, How many friends have you? but, How much can you see in each friend? It is not, How far have you travelled? but, How much can you see without travelling? One man may find more in his own house than another can find in a tour round the world. Paul was a far richer and happier man than Caesar, though Caesar owned the world and Paul owned nothing, simply because he saw more. He saw an infinite soul in every man that he met; he saw the world of possibilities in every child; he saw eternity stamped on all the changes of time; he saw God’s good purposes writing golden lines under every page of sorrow and of sin; he saw heaven’s rich colours transfiguring every earthly scene, and his life was filled to overflowing. “As sorrowing, yet always rejoicing; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.” It is such men as the Apostles who are the master spirits, the brave, joyful spirits of the world. It is not those who have much, it is those who see much, and who make us cry, whenever we come into their society. “Lord, open Thou our eyes, that we also may see.” Now, from all this, it follows that our daily prayer for ourselves, and for others, is the prayer for the power to see.
2. But in order that we may offer this prayer aright we must be conscious of our need. No man will be passionate in his cry for help who does not realise his own helplessness. Nothing is more common than for men to imagine that that which they do not see does not exist. It is said that a dog writhes in agony under the most exquisite music; the more elevating the music the more the dog writhes. But who thinks any the worse of the music on that account? The most you can do is to pity the dog. When the vibrations of a musical chord attain a certain rapidity the music is no longer heard, by ordinary ears. It is too high, too refined; m a sense, too spiritual. It is only the keen ear of a practised musician that can catch it then. The same law runs through all life, and it should be a warning against our too ready criticism, and should check our faulty and uncharitable judgments. There are numbers of men who think that it is an easy thing to fathom a human soul and take in the sum of its mysteries. But you might as well attempt to measure God’s heavens with an opera-glass. The men and women who are to us as closed doors, with dark and empty chambers behind, are full of the choicest treasures to those who have found the secret key. They are like closed instruments to us, which yield no music to our touch because our hands lack the cunning which is required to play on them. But as soon as our kinship with them shows us what chords we are to touch, and how to touch them, their whole nature will break out in symphonies, and they will become to us an unmeasured source of delight and joy. Christ said, “The prince of this world cometh and findeth nothing in Me.” Fancy that! The prince of the world looks into the royal and Divine soul--or thinks lie looks--and declares that he finds nothing. The very fulness of God, the overflowing fountain of eternal love and delight, is to the prince of the world only emptiness, darkness, and silence. A man may be clever at analysing light and distilling clouds, and yet have none of the artist’s discernment. He may be clever with chisel, and saw, and hammer, and scalpel, yet when he has to deal with a magnetic current, or an electric spark, he may be as helpless as a child. These subtleties escape him because neither his instincts nor his discernments are sufficiently fine. And in the same way there are clever dogmatists who think that they know all about the things of God, who laugh at those who profess to see more than they see, but who themselves never touch the very fringe of the subject of Divine things. They have eyes but they see not, and none more than they need to pray, “Lord, open Thou our eyes that we also may see.” The psalmist’s prayer was, “Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” To the common eye this book is a book of letters and syllables, of sentences and paragraphs, of verses and chapters. But to the eye of the thoughtful and enlightened Christian, the man with spiritual insight, every chapter sparkles with beauty, and pulsates with life. Some time ago I met with a picture representing two women in great sorrow. Standing behind the chairs on which they were sitting there appeared the figure of Christ stretching out His hands over them. They could not see Him, because their eyes were dim, but He was none the less present with them. He was near in all His effulgent brightness, with all His sympathetic consolation, and with all His helpful power. At the foot of the picture this verse was written:
Unheard, because our ears are dull,
Unseen, because our eyes are dim,
He walks on earth, the Wonderful,
And all great deeds are done for Him.
What we need then, brethren, is the power to see--to see the chariots and horses on the mountains; to see God all about us; to see the strong right arm of the Almighty stretched out to help us; to see that the darkest clouds and most threatening surroundings are under the all-controlling power of the Everlasting Father. And, seeing this, we shall have the prophet’s hope, and the prophet’s faith, and the prophet’s trust that they who are with us are more than they who are against us. The prayer, then, that befits our lips day and night continually is, “Lord, we pray Thee, open our eyes, that we may see.” (W. Jubb.)
The vision permitted to Elisha’s servant as illustrative of the true faith of the soul
1. Here we see, as if through a microscope, the act or process of faith in the human soul. What is faith? “It is,” says the apostle, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;” that is to say, it is the faculty which reaches to that which is beyond the senses, yet which apprehends it as certain--as being at least as certain as the things which we see. Faith, then, is not an act of the natural imagination. Imagination deals with that which is not; faith with that which is; imagination with a fiction; faith with fact. The objects of faith and the objects of imagination may have this, if you will, in common, that they are both beyond the reach of the natural sight. But, then, there is this difference, that the objects of faith, being, as they are, real, may become visible to a higher sense than the bodily eye; while the objects of imagination can never be visible to the soul; being fictions, however beautiful, they occur to the soul always as such--as fictions, it may be, of its own creation, not as realities. When men speak of faith as a vivid and energetic form of imagination, they mean to imply this, without stating in terms that they do so: they mean to imply that just as the poet Virgil projected a picture of the nether world out of the immense wealth of his fancy, so evangelists and apostles hare traced their own beautiful pictures of heaven, and their awful descriptions of hell and of judgment, on the pages of our Testaments, by the aid of an extraordinary variety of the religious imagination. The evangelists and apostles, whatever else they were--I say it with reverence--were not poets, they were eminently prosaic; and the remark of Rousseau that the inventor of the Gospel history must have been not less wonderful than its hero, if he were entirely unassisted from above, is at least a satisfactory reply to this theory of faith doing the work of pure imagination. Why, the apostles say with St. Peter, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables;” the apostles exclaim with St. John, “That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you”; and among ordinary Christians is it not a matter of daily experience that the most earnest, the most practical believers are constantly persons who are exceptionally wanting in the faculty of imagination, and who look at all the concerns of life in a matter-of-fact way which forbids the idea of their ever, under any circumstances, giving reins to fancy? In the case before us, Elisha’s servant did not create, by an act of imagination, a splendid picture in the air, after the manner of a Milton or a Rubens, a picture of fiery beings circling round the form of his beloved, of his imperilled master. The thing was psychologically impossible. He had his eye upon the hard and menacing fact before him, upon the lines of the Syrian troops who were sent to capture the prophet his master. He could, for the time, see nothing beyond the sphere of sense. But the world of spirits was a thing utterly independent of his imagination. It would have been none the less there if he had never seen it; just as the Syrian troops would have been none the less there if Elisha’s servant had been born blind, and had never seen them. His new power of seeing the chariots and horses of fire sweeping around Elisha did not create these spiritual forms and beings; there they were, whether he and other men saw them or not. The man’s new sight could not create, as his blindness could not have destroyed, the supernatural reality. Yes, but I hear it whispered, there is a common sense based on our ordinary experience, which resists these notions of aa invisible world, actually around and about us. But what is the real worth of this so-termed common sense? When the comet of October 1858 appeared, a lecturer made a tour of some country villages in Devonshire, with a view of telling the country people some facts about the beautiful object which, night by night, attracted so much of their attention; and among other points he touched upon the calculations which astronomers had made as to the enormous length of the tail of the comet. I recollect hearing a countryman, who treated this part of his lecture with contemptuous incredulity: “I saw the comet myself,” said the man to a sympathising crowd of villagers, “I saw the comet myself, and its tail was just four feet long; and how are we to believe this man who comes down hero to tell us that it is ever so many millions of miles?” Now, that was the common sense of ordinary sight, pitted against the common sense of the higher insight into nature which is won by scientific investigation. The astronomer, with Lord Russell’s telescope at his disposal, sees, he does not imagine, the heavenly bodies utterly out of the reach of your ordinary sight or mine; and the servant of Elisha, when the eyes of his spirit are opened, sees--it is by the aid of a new spiritual faculty--sees what he would not, what he could not, have imagined, sees the world of spirits floating in all its power and its beauty round his endangered master. Nor is faith only the conclusion, the final act, of a process of natural reasoning. If this were the case, if faith were merely the conclusion of a syllogism, it would necessarily follow that all people with good understandings must necessarily be believers in Christianity. We know that many persons of great natural abilities, such as was Voltaire, are and have been unbelievers; and this alone would seem to show that something besides intelligence is implied in an act of faith. No man whose mind was not impaired could go through a proposition of Euclid and refuse to assent to a conclusion; but many people do read Paley’s Evidences, or, what is more to the purpose, what St. Paul himself says about the resurrection, and yet do not admit Paley’s and St. Paul’s conclusion that Christianity comes from God. If believing in Christianity were simply an affair of the natural understanding, this could not be. It would be just as inevitable to believe St. Paul as it is intellectually to believe Euclid. Why is it so? Why is acceptance of religious truth not just as imperative upon the human understanding as the acceptance of mathematical truth? Because the act of faith is not merely an act of the intelligence; because it is an act of the whole inward nature, an act of the affections and the will, as well as an act of the understanding. “With the heart,” says St. Paul, “man believeth into righteousness.” The affections and the will have a great deal to say to every pure act of faith. The understanding cannot compel faith. If faith were merely an assent of the understanding to a conclusion warranted by sufficient evidence, it is plain that St. Paul could never speak of it as he does when writing to the Romans and the Galatians. He tells them that it is that which justifies before God. Why, goodness of understanding could be no more reason for our acceptance with God than strong limbs or retentiveness of memory. Faith is thus spoken of in the New Testament because it is a test of the moral nature, because a man believes upon evidence, although not absolutely compulsory evidence, in obedience to the promptings of his heart and will. What is it which makes the desire, the heart, on the one side, and the evidence at the disposal of the understanding on the other side, result in the complex, in the perfect act of faith? What is it which strikes the sacred spark which thus combines the action of the understanding and the yearnings of the heart into the single act which supersedes while it combines them The Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” Faith is, in the last resort, the fire which is lighted up in the soul by a ray from Heaven, by a ray of grace. It is a gift from God. It is a fresh gift, which nature can neither rival nor anticipate. Elisha might have insisted upon many considerations which ought, in reason, to have satisfied his servant that God and His holy ones were now, as of old, near at hand, that the near presence of the Syrians did not amount to a real reason for despair. Had not God helped the patriarch Jacob? Had He not delivered Israel in the wilderness, and David from the wild beast, and Elijah quite recently from the power of Ahab and of Jezebel? Was it to be supposed that He would desert His prophet now, or that, happen what might, He was unconcerned or powerless? Elisha did not argue. There are times when argument is most precious; there are times when it is worse than useless. Elisha prayed. Now this exactly agrees with what we are taught about faith in the New Testament. Faith is there represented as a new spiritual sense, as an endowment or gift bestowed upon the soul by the Holy Ghost. It is contrasted with natural sight. “We walk by faith, and not by sight,” says St. Paul. It is contrasted with natural reason. “The natural man,” says St. Paul, “receiveth” not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. It is a higher reason than the reason which nature gives; it is a higher and more perfect sight, which God gives over and above the sight of nature, which nature cannot, if she would, achieve. “Faith,” says St. Paul again, “is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Do not misunderstand me. Do I say that natural reason has no office whatever to discharge in the work of establishing our religious convictions? No. If this were so, not merely the evidential theology of the Church, but much of the language of the Bible itself, which unmistakably appeals to reason, would be a vast mistake. Reason can do very much for faith. Reason stands to faith just as did the Baptist to Christ our Lord. She is the messenger which goes before the face of faith to make ready its path within the soul. Reason can explain, she can infer, she can combine, she can reduce difficulties to their true proportions, she can make the most of considerations which show what, upon the whole, is to be expected; but here she must stop. She cannot do the work of God’s grace; she cannot change, she cannot transfigure the moral nature so as to enable it to correspond to the conclusions” of the illuminated intellect; she cannot open the eyes of the young man and make him see.
2. Let us see in this history a remedy against despondency, such as good Christians often feel on contemplating the state of the world at particular periods. All seems to be going against the cause of right, of truth, of God.
3. “The enemy crieth so, and the ungodly cometh on so fast, that they are minded to do me some mischief, so maliciously are they set against me.” The Psalmist’s cry is echoed by the Church, kneeling at the foot of the throne of Christ. It is echoed throughout the centuries. Intellectual assailants, political adversaries, all the passions, all the prejudices, all t e misapprehensions of an unregenerate humanity, come down and besiege the prophet in Dothan. All might seem to be lost again and again if it were not that, again and again, the eyes of the spirit are opened to perceive that they which are with us are more than they which are with them. Courage; the unseen is greater than the seen, the eternal will surely outlive the things of time. An act of faith may cross the threshold of the door which separates us from that world which is beyond the senses, and may at once correct the apparent preponderance of evil by a vision of the throne, and the resources of the All-good. And see, too, in this history our true pattern of nobility. It has been a common saying, quoted again and again of late, to explain and justify changes on the Continent that have taken place within the last ten years, that it is better to be the citizens of a great state than the citizens of a small one. Brethren, it is better for many reasons, for this among the rest: there is an inspiration for good which comes from the sense of wide and noble fellowship, of high and distinguished associates and guardians, which is denied to those who are members of a small society that have it not. And, in His kingdom, God has provided us with this. It embraces both worlds, the unseen world as well as the visible. “Ye are come,” says the apostle, writing to Christian converts, “ye are come by your conversion unto Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect.” The Church thus is a world-embracing society, consisting here of the faithful, there of the blessed angels and of the spirits of the dead, united in the bonds of one indissoluble communion, and all ranged beneath the throne of thrones, the throne of God, the throne of Jesus. Does this lofty conviction, think you, inspire nothing like hatred of sin, no longing for a higher life, no wish to live as should the companions of beings who constitute the household of God, and who are our predestined fellow-citizens? The Syrian host may press us hard; the host of temptations, and bad thoughts, and bad acquaintances; of haunting memories; but when, at the voice of prayer, the prayer of the Church or our own, our eyes open upon the realities around and above us, we must remember that we have a destiny before us, and means at hand to prepare for it.
3. Lastly, we see here the secret of real, effective prayer. Why is prayer, public prayer especially, in so many cases nothing better than the coldest of cold, heartless forms? For two reasons especially. Men enter on it without having any true knowledge of themselves whatever, of their sins and wants, as well as of their hopes and fears, of their real state before God, as well as of their reputed character in the eyes of men: in a word, they have no true knowledge of that for which prayer wins something like a remedy, and thus they have no personal interest of their own which they can import into, and identify with, the public language of the Church. They do not, for instance, know enough about themselves to say, with anything like sincerity before God, that they have erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep, or that there are certain things which for their unworthiness they dare not and for their blindness they cannot ask. This is the first reason. But there is a second. Prayer is so cold and heartless a thing in numbers of instances because men see nothing of Him to whom prayer is addressed, nothing of God, nothing of Jesus, nothing of the spirit-world around the throne, nothing of the majesty, the beauty, the glory which encircles God, such as is possible, really possible to our finite and purblind gaze,--nothing of the everlasting worship which surrounds Him, nothing of the ministers of His that do His pleasures. (Cannon Liddon.)
Blindness and reality
Close your eyes (this is how I sometimes bring myself back from half an hour’s infidelity)--close your eyes; has the action of the house ceased because you cannot see it? Are the children all dead because you cannot see them? Has love ceased her sweet function because you cannot see the handmaid, the mother, or the sister, through whom that function operates? Has the exclusion wrought by blindness annihilated domestic or communal economy? Open your eyes: all your friends are about you, all the ministry of the house has been going on, though you could not see it. What! have we the power of annihilating all the sublimest realities by simply shutting our eyes? Why, then we would blot out the sun; why, then we would sweep the heavens at night of all their jewellery; why, then we should turn the summer into the blackness of absolute gloom. So our inner eyes are closed at present; but that does not necessitate the absence of spirits, angels, ministrants divine, servants sent to minister unto us by the King of Heaven. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Faith and sight
Faith is to sight and reason what the telescope is to the naked eye. By the use of this powerful instrument, the most distant planets are made known to us in detail. A map of Mars has been published showing canal-like seas, islands, and large mountains covered with snow. Faith brings the distant near, makes the spiritual the most real, and enables us to dwell in heavenly places. (R. Venting.)
The horses and chariots of God
I. God is the unseen but constant factor in the lives of men and women. The King of Syria made his plans and tried to carry them out with his best cunning, but they all went awry because he was fighting against God. He did not take God into account. God is the most important factor in our lives, and there is absolutely no certainty of our success unless God is working in harmony with us. As Joseph Parker says, commenting on this case, it is the Unknown Quantity that troubles men, and gives them to feel that after they have completed their arithmetic their conclusion is a lie.
II. The spirit-world is near to us. It is not a dumb, dead world, all day and iron and gold, with no voice or hearing. It is not a thin empty world, all air and space. No, indeed: our Heavenly Father has many children, a universe peopled with them, the creatures of His love, just as we are. The ingenuity of heaven was not exhausted when God made the human body; He has millions of angels clothed upon with spiritual forms; bodies that we may not see with our earthly eye, but bodies none the less real and infinitely more enduring than those we do see. The Bible is a book of angels.
III. The army of God camps between the trusting soul and his enemies. The military of heaven greatly exceeded that of the Syrians. I have seen a man who had been rescued from terrible sins and cruel appetites beset by a legion of devilish lusts and temptations that clamoured for his soul, and I have wondered if he would be able to beat them down and go on his way with steady step towards heaven. And I have rejoiced as I have watched and witnessed that, despite all the howling and barking of the wolves of temptation, the man grew stronger, his face firmer, his eyes shone with a loftier courage, and his brow was glorified with higher ideals. Then I knew that the secret of it was that between him and the howling pack of devilish temptations were encamped the hosts of God’s angels.
IV. Through prayer we may pass from the life of sight into the life of faith. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
Horses and chariots of fire
I. The Syrian army surrounding Elisha, a symbol of the forces that have ever been arrayed against the truth. The attack upon Elisha and his servant was very unfair, and the forces apparently very unequal--an armed host against two unarmed men! Let us notice--
1. That the foes were many--“a great host.” It seemed out of all proportion, and altogether absurd; and the escape of the prophet and his servant seemed hopeless.
2. The foes were mighty--armed men with horses and chariots, presenting a very formidable and imposing appearance, and threatening to sweep all before them.
3. The foes were malignant, they had crept up stealthily under the cover of the night, and they intended to pounce upon the man of God, and arrest him with violence. They had been told that the prophet had been the cause of all their defeats, so they would feel very spiteful and vindictive, and would be anxious to capture the man they regarded as their greatest enemy. Here we have a symbol of the forces that have ever been arrayed against the truth.
II. The prophet Elisha in the midst of the Syrian army a type of every true defender of the truth. Elisha was unarmed with carnal weapons; and he had not gone to Dothan to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. He was not an enemy, but a friend to the true progress and best interests of men; and in his gentleness and harmlessness he is a model of every true, godly, and christly man.
1. Elisha was on the alert. He had not gone to Dothan to spend his time in idleness, for, early in the morning, he and his servant were on the move to prosecute their work and fulfil their mission.
2. Elisha was calm in the face of danger. His servant was greatly alarmed when he saw the armed host, and said, “Alas I my master, how shall we do?” But Elisha was calm, and said, “Fear not.” He did not make flesh his arm, nor trust for deliverance upon what he could see with the eye of sense. He admitted human weakness, but he apprehended Divine strength. He put his trust in God, and so his mind was kept in perfect peace.
3. Elisha found refuge in prayer. Cod had already shown him that he had a great host on his side; and now he wishes that his servant may see the army too.
III. The horses and chariots of fire upon the mountain, an emblem of the forces that are ever battling on the side of truth.
1. They were invisible to mortal eyes. The prophet Elisha had the spiritual vision to discern them; but the servant could not see them till his spiritual vision was uncovered. The horses and chariots of fire, formidable and real as they were, were not palpable to human sight.
2. They were innumerable. The mountain was full of them. Elisha was completely surrounded by celestial warriors; the army from the sky was mustered and marshalled as if on the eve of a terrible battle.
3. They were invincible. Taking up their position in the mountains suggests the idea that they would be immovable and impregnable; and they seemed to be “of fire,” and fire, we know, suggests the ideas of aggression and irresistibility. The horses and chariots of Syria in the valley would be as nothing compared with this great host of fire upon the mountains. (F. W. Brown.)
Sight is a wonderful thing by it we are connected and associated with the things that are around us. A man who has never seen is only self-contained and knows nothing of the wealth of glories which are within his reach. It is well to think sometimes of what our loss would be if our world were circumscribed by the orbit of our own darkened bodies. Vision is one of the most wonderful and blessed of all God’s gifts.
I. The scope of human penetration is limited. This is an indisputable fact.
1. Even with our wonderful organs of vision there are many material things which we cannot perceive. Think of animal life. How infinitely small some of its existences! They are too small for our perception. A pint measure may contain as many living creatures as the world contains inhabitants. The microscope has of late years taught us that, around us on every side are existences so small and numerous that we can scarcely conceive of their multitude. But beyond the range of our most powerful microscope there lie still unexplained worlds of life. Think of the particles of inanimate matter. A ray of sunshine in a darkened room will reveal the existence of thousands of particles which we cannot ordinarily observe, and opens a wondrous field of imagination as to what may be beyond.
2. Besides material objects there are immaterial things which the age cannot perceive -electricity, sound, heat; smell cannot be practically seen.
3. Beyond all this there is the spiritual world. That this is close around us we know. God is everywhere. Satan is everywhere. There are for aught we know millions of angelic beings and even of human spirits within our call, but they cannot be seen.
II. The relationships between God’s people and the world are often misunderstood. We cannot take a more striking example than that of our Lord Himself. Here was apparently a poor simple countryman, poor and despised, passing about from one place to another, attended by a few followers, still poorer and more neglected than Himself. And yet the whole resources of the universe were at this Man’s fingers’-ends. At a word all creation would have asserted His position and would have avenged His cause. Ten legions of angels attended His course, and He had only to speak for inanimate things to obey. And as with Christ so with His people both before and since His earthly appearance. A few practical thoughts will urge this subject on our consideration.
1. Faith is not a matter of ideality or imagination. It is a realisation of actual facts. It is not supposing that we may be saved or that God will help, but it is grasping the fact that God has saved and that He truly helps. It is the evidence of things unseen.
2. How foolish is despondency or despair on the part of God s people. There is no circumstance so dark and no condition so extreme as to be without Divine help. God’s resources are always near, far more powerful and far more numerous than those of any adversaries.
3. God does not parade His power. It is unseen both by foes and friends, but is always ready for immediate exercise. (Homilist.)
Ignorance of the unseen due to limitations of the senses
Science sneers at faith, and yet is often compelled to contradict itself. Huxley says: “The wonderful noonday silence of a tropical forest is, after all, due only to the dulness of our hearing; and could the ears catch the murmurs of these tiny maelstroms, as they whirl in the countless myriads of living ceils which constitute each tree, we should be stunned as with the roar of a great city.” Thus it is not said that because we have no sensation of them these murmurs have no existence. We claim the argument for God and for the spiritual world. Our ignorance of this may be due only to the dulness of our hearing.
The reality of the invisible
You have seen pupils at the blackboard trying to strike a perfect circle or straight line for a mathematical demonstration. Some lines produced would be deemed successes and pronounced perfectly straight or exactly curved. But, put a strong glass upon them, add inequalities appear. Commonly, when we have done our best at drawing lines, we add, as we proceed to demonstrate, “Now suppose that to be a perfect curve or straight line.” Yes, draw as well as we can, then suppose it to be what we have attempted, that is the best we ever do. An absolutely perfect curve exists only in the imagination, or indicated by the mathematician s formula. The astronomer works by the perfect curve for which his formula calls, not by the imperfect line of his own instruments. He discredits the accuracy of the visible line, but puts all confidence in the invisible. The trackless spaces of the heavens are all cut by curves of perfect exactness. But eye never sees them. Such perfection of lines exists also in our imagination, but is never reproduced in figures of our making. The imaginary lines are, therefore, the true and everlasting realities--the perfect patterns in which we believe and to which we work, while our figures are but imperfect efforts at reproduction, uncertain shadows of the reality. And that is the reality of the invisible, in which we believe. In other words, the invisible, according to our theme, is more real than the visible. We all believe that the perfect curve of the trackless heavens and of the imagination is a finer thing than that of our rule and dividers. The geometry of the sky beats all the geometries of the printed page. And we so believe, though one is seen while the other exists only in the imagination or lies but potentially in the mathematician’s formula. Now, we shall find that whichever way we turn in the realms of thought or of action, the things invisible are the mightiest agencies of the universe and even of our practical daily life. You have a model business, social and Christian standard. You never quite attain it, yet there stand the invisible models which you will never abandon, if you are a true and growing man. Hence my theme, The reality of the invisible. The circles which the child draws, I declare to be the unreal thing, while the invisible circle which it tries to imitate is the reality. That is above criticism and everlasting. But it is a reality that is invisible. Take the matter of vegetable growth. We cannot see anything grow, no matter how rapid the growth. We can see, at the end of twenty-four hours, that it has grown, but the movement in the process our eyes cannot focus finely enough to detect. Yet no one would be unreasonable enough to question whether there can be growth in twenty-four hours, just because he cannot see the movement. I have heard a farmer say of his corn: “It grew so fast last night you might have heard it grow.” He spoke jocosely. But the same might have been said in sober earnest and scientific accuracy, if only the human ear were sensitive enough to detect the sound which the growing actually did make. An ingenious man of science invented an instrument by which to test the power of vegetable growth. Applying it to a plant in his garden, the instrument revealed a lifting power equal to three tons. Perhaps we should want to see that instrument itself well tested. Still it revealed a real power and compels our belief to a large degree. Take another illustration, in the realm of sound. We have all heard music which charmed us by the exquisite delicacy and evenness of its flow. So you recall violin notes of such refinement, that when they ceased you were startled and half dazed, as one coming back from a spiritual realm. But science proves, as clearly as it proves anything, that the air is full of music, which we all fail to catch only because our organs of hearing are too coarse to detect it. Yet, the intelligent believe in such unheard music. For, sound is occasioned by vibrations of the air, and experiment proves that the lowest sound which the acutest human ear can hear is from vibrations at the rate of 16”5 per second, and the highest within reach of the ear is at the rate of 38,000 vibrations per second. But the vibrations caused by moving light go as high as 765,000,000,000,000 per second. So that we miss whatever music there is between the 38,000 and the 765,000,000,000,000 in vibration. How very little do we hear! The swift wind roars through the tree tops that overhang our house, and the strings of the AEolian harp vibrate in sweetest notes to the zephyr that breathes across it on our window-sill. We believe in the roar of the wind and in the notes of the harp because we hear them. But the same laws which produce these sounds make music a necessity of every falling drop of rain or floating flake of snow. Even the very rays of sun and moon and star must sing as they slant their way through their air to our eyes. Shall we believe in the laws of sound which hold perfectly through each step up to the point of our limit in power to hear, and then deny the holding of that same law beyond the reach to our ears? Surely not. We follow the law with our belief and our imagination clear out into the realm of the inaudible, and there revel in music unearthly. We are not wont to hold the Bible to the accuracies of physical science in its moral teachings; but the Psalmist was stating scientific truth, as facts now appear, when he wrote, “Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to sing”--“to rejoice,” our translators rendered it, instead of to sing, as the word means, only because they were ignorant then of what we now know, that the myriad rays of the rising and setting sun must all start and pursue their swift way, each singing its own sweet song, without an instant’s interruption. The howl of the tempest we believe in, and the hum of the gnat’s tiny wing. Shall we compel the law that produces those sounds to stand suspended just where we can hear no farther? No. If we can hear the hum of the tiniest gnat we ever saw, we easily believe there may be a hum too refined for our ears to catch. A ray of light cannot enter your room for your waking in the morning without singing its good morning, nor depart at night save with leaving on the air its delicate nocturne. Science demonstrates this, and, though our ears are too coarse to bear witness to the facts, we believe. No wonder the Bible tells how “the morning stars sang together.” That is not poetic fancy, by license. It is scientific fact. So, too, we all believe in gravity, though invisible. Electricity, also, how firmly we believe in that and in its yet unrevealed wonders, though it is too subtle for the human eye to detect, for we must bear in mind that no human eye has ever seen electricity! We see the flash it makes, in motion, but never the electricity itself. I know of nothing in physical nature that so illustrates the reality of the invisible as does electricity. It is physical, and yet eludes us like a very spirit. It seems to be the finest possible attenuation of the physical verging off into the spiritual. But we believe in the fact of electricity as firmly as we believe in the fact of wood and stone. I hope you do not weary of these illustrations, much less lose the point of our text, or suspect the speaker of having lost it. “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.” In the light of our illustrations this text begins to say: They who believe in and rely upon invisible realities have more with them than they who only believe in what they can touch and taste, and hear, and see. The mathematician who demonstrates and imagines and believes in an absolutely perfect circle has something better to go upon than the child stopping content with its imperfect line of chalk. The musician who accepts the laws of Nature and imagines and believes in the unheard music of the outer air, the unspeakable melodies of the rising and setting sun and the ever-glowing stars, has infinitely more with him than has he who only believes in the sounds he can make or hear, even as the deaf pianist I once heard, who went wild with ecstasy as his fingers flew over the keyboard, though he heard not a sound. All of which helps us to say, with cumulative power, that the man who believes with all his powers in a realm of spirits out of sight, and in the human spirit and its everlastingness, has vastly more with him than he who believes only in this body of decay and dust, holding nothing certain beyond its burial in the grave, and talking ever with uncertainty of the spirit world and his dear ones gone from him. The man who believes, as the main point of living only, in his possibilities of present pleasures of eating, drinking, family delights, and all indulgences that money can purchase, yea, even in the pleasures of thought upon present things--he, I say, has far fewer with him than has he who, enjoying all these in their place, lives mainly in the unseen, in his soul-life, and believes in the everlasting family of the everlasting Father, in the ever-developing and increasing power of the soul to enjoy, in the human passions and pleasures, ever purifying until his humanity shall affiliate with divinity, the finite with the infinite, enjoying it for ever. This is the instance of the reality of the invisible which I have been trying to illustrate. That army with horse and chariot and spear was instantly conquered by this invisible host, though not a visible blow was struck. Spiritual power ruled the physical forces, and they were led captive like weak children. They were inwardly possessed and spiritually disarmed. That angelic host, the spiritual energy of Jehovah, was the reality; the army with banners was but the shadow of real power. Now, the Bible is full of this kind of thing. It is God’s effort to impress upon this world the facts of the invisible. These are what I would have you accept as realities. God, we are told and believe, reigns not only among the inhabitants of earth, but among the armies of heaven. He is not dependent upon this world alone as His recruiting ground. When His people here are dangerously beleaguered, when His causes are in peril by reason of physical forces that cannot, be matched by other forces that are physical also, then He calls upon the spiritual armies to come to the rescue. (J. H. Taylor, D. D.)
The blindness of men, and the nearness of the spiritual world
To the eye of unbelief, and of distrust, this visible, outward world is everything. Its value is the only assignable value; its history the only true history; its dangers the only dangers to be shunned; its help the only help to be sought. There were no chariots there, nor horses; but there were spiritual hosts, who showed themselves before the imagination of the young man. Let us take up the vision presented to the young man in the text, as a rebuke to distrust, and generally to unbelief, that worldly state of mind, content with the outside of things, from which, in an hour of danger, distrust proceeds. The unbelieving man, we are taught, is a superficial man, and a blind man. There are things the most momentous in the whole world, which he cannot perceive, nor apprehend. There is a world around, him,. in him,. larger, mightier, more enduring than the earth’s rocky base, with bearings on life and destiny of untold importance, a world which meets him on every hand, follows him along while he travels through this world into the noiseless workings of which he is unable to penetrate, the existence of which, therefore, enters not into his plans, nor affects his desires. Is he not blind in such thick unbelief? Or, if he admits into his mind the existence of such a world, and is continually falling back into distrust, so that goodness seems to him to have no power on its side, is he not still but a bleary-eyed man, whose eye needs to be opened in order to see the array of spiritual forces that are under the command of God? Let us apply the text to that particular form of unbelief, namely distrust, which is especially referred to. The blindness and sinfulness of distrust will be apparent, when we take into view the plans and resources of the invisible world. It is a part of the plan that this invisible world does not manifest itself by obvious interferences in the present order of things: everything which we can touch, taste, see or hear, goes on by law and process as much as if there were no God. It is another part, that, although evil has entered into the system, and although there is an everlasting conflict between evil and good, yet no act of power is put forth by Him, who must be conceived to side with goodness and to love it with all his heart. Now the blindness of such distrust is made apparent from considerations already implied in our text.
1. God is ever active, and has an intense sympathy with what is good and true. Between this and atheism, there is no middle ground, for the distrustful man of this day will not fall into the Epicurean’s belief, that God is indifferent to human things, and indisposed to interfere; or into the Manichean belief, that there is an equal contest waging between light and darkness. Such being the case, we say that God must have a plan, and that the plan may consist partly in leaving the subordinate combatants on the sides of good and evil to themselves, without Divine interference in favour of what God must love. It is as if the general of an army, whose troops were raw and needed to be inured by long discipline to military hardships and military skill, suffered them to undergo partial defeats until they were ripe for some great movements of decisive battle. Must such a general, of necessity, be hard-hearted, or devoid of love to his country and his cause? So God may suffer the conflicts of this world to go on in order to fasten the hearts of His loyal people to Himself. The power of Divine help may be nigh and ready, if an act of trust be put forth.
2. But we pass on to consider the attitude which unbelief takes in regard to spiritual power and presence. There is a more radical and deadly form of doubt than distrust. Distrust believes and disbelieves at once, or passes to and fro in its various moods of courage and apprehension, from one state of mind to its opposite, but there is an unbelief which is fixed and unbroken by any fits of belief, which recognises no spiritual agency or none affecting the conduct. Distrust catches a glimpse now and then of the horses and chariots of fire, and again loses the sight, as we lose the sight of a star or distant mountain on the horizon; but unbelief sees and hears nothing except the sights and sounds of this material world. Unbelief must in fact admit, while it denies, the existence of some kind of spiritual world. The unbeliever, though he may be a materialist and a sensualist, recognises those immaterial forces which we call the human soul.
3. In this invisible spiritual world, even if we confine it to mankind, great and most remarkable events are going forward, which the unbelieving man is too blind to perceive, or to which he fails to give their true value. Let us look at some of these events or classes of events which belong to this spiritual kingdom, in order to estimate their importance, and the blindness of him who takes no account of them. We refer first to the life of a man once obscure and unnoticed in an obscure nation, who by the force of His life and of His character has swayed more souls and done more for man’s inner life than all other human beings put together. What would the external manifestations of man’s nature, manners, morals, law, art, science, government, be at this day apart from Jesus Christ; and yet His peculiar province is the invisible region of the soul. Listen to the words in which a noted novelist of Germany, Jean Paul, speaks of Him: “Jesus, the purest among the mighty, the mightiest among the pure, with His pierced hand lifted kingdoms of[ their hinges, the stream of centuries out of its bed, and still rules the ages on their course. An individual once trod on the earth, who by moral omnipotence alone controlled other times and founded an eternity of His own; one, who, soft-blooming and easily drawn as a sun-flower, burning and attracting as a sun, still, in His mild form, moved and turned Himself and nations and centuries together towards the all-enlightening primal sun: it is that still Spirit, which we call Jesus Christ. If He existed, either there is a Providence, or He is that Providence. Only quiet teaching and quiet dying were the notes wherewith this higher Orpheus tamed men-beasts, and turned rocks by His music into cities.” The power, then, by which this wonderful life of Jesus fed itself, was wholly of the spiritual world. And by what instruments has He worked so mightily on human hearts and characters? By spiritual ones, by the feeling of guilt, the longing for purity and peace of soul, by offering pardon and the promises of life-giving assistance to the contrite, by a life and example of united love and holiness, by unveiling God and the soul’s unending life.
4. These events of the spiritual world among mankind depend on the existence and presence of a spiritual world above mankind. This is indeed obvious, and has come into view as we looked at the life of Christ and of those who followed Him in a spiritual life. If the unbeliever is on true, safe ground, there is nothing that ought to rule the life except the material earth and its laws, the desires, chiefly the animal ones, and some few of the social principles. If the spiritual man is right, there is a higher world, beyond the laws of matter, desire, and society. The exercise of his reason, conscience, and affections has introduced him among a different set of realities, which themselves involve the existence of real personalities above man. He now acknowledges the laws of a moral universe--laws made to regulate thought, and therefore emanating from a being who has planned and thought. Sin itself, felt in his conscience, conducts down upon him the justice of the universe. When once God is admitted to be a reality, there is a system centering at His throne; let him for a moment, in thought, conceive of God as not existing, and the spiritual world among men becomes darkly and inexplicably incomplete.
5. If, now, there is such a world with God for its centre, it is the height of blindness not to see it. This is obvious from a great variety of considerations. If there is such a world, it must be of infinite importance compared with the world of matter; the interests of the soul are bound lip with it, and to live as if they depended upon the earth must be self-ruin.
6. Such blindness needs to be overcome by a Divine act of opening the eyes. Men may well pray “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” And the unbeliever himself, if a glimmering of light falls on him, may well pray for help from the God of light. If there is such an entire contrast between the worlds of which we have spoken, it must needs be that old habits of thought, strengthened through an unspiritual life, must render spiritual apprehension exceedingly difficult. (T. D. Woolsey.)
The invisible things
I. The heavy pressure of outward and visible things upon us who are still in the body.
1. There is the business of life.
2. There are the pleasures of life.
3. There are the trials of life.
II. And yet the history before us is designed to show how very near, all the while, lies another world and another life, altogether of spirit, and heaven, and God.
III. What, then, are these other truths, these other realities, as the Word of God discloses them?
1. The revelation of God’s providence.
2. But the thought of providence, and of that which goes to make it, has an aspect of fear as well as of joy.
3. Yet let us not speak of God, as if He were an Observer only, and not chiefly and, above all, the Friend of man.
IV. A man passes out of the life of sight into the life of faith, by that opening of the eyes of which the text tells. (Dean Vaughan.)
Our angelic allies
“I began life,” says Mr. M’Neill, “in the railway service, and it taught me all the best blessings of my life.” But, as he said at the recent “Welcome” meeting at Exeter Hall, “I always like to be connected with a big thing. I myself began life as a lad on the railway. I was only fifteen, and I worked at a wayside station, earning the magnificent salary of six shillings a week. I felt small enough in myself, but then I multiplied myself by the whole Company. I spoke of the number of trucks, the enormous traffic, the number of passengers we carried every year, the immense receipts of the Company.” From this Mr. M’Neill suggested the following lesson: “So I would say to the workers in little obscure missions where there are no big receptions like this, where even the churches know little of their work. Multiply yourself by the great armies, invisible, yet potent, who are fighting on your side. They that be with us are more than they that be with them. God could fill our streets at any moment with the squadrons and battalions of the redeemed. Rank upon rank they might rise before us, these invisible and mighty ones. Think of them when you walk the streets of London, and feel the insulting might of the world and the devil.”
The opened eye
I am not here to lecture upon the human eye; but I may just remind you that it is naturally keen--keener than the eyes of many animals. Sharper than that of the dog, keener even than that of the fox; only the bright-eyed birds outdo us in this matter. They see as they fly what we sometimes fail to see even when we search for it. But oh what a difference there is in the powers of human perception. That is to say, two men, apparently much alike in other respects, will differ very greatly in this matter. One of them will take a journey round the world and see next to nothing; another man will stroll down a country lane and surprise himself and all whom he afterwards informs, with the things that he saw upon the ground, and in the hedgerow, and in the air above him. The Romans, so I hear, described a man who had not the faculty of perception thus proverbially: they said, “He goes through the forest and sees no fire “ This does not mean that he cannot see. No, he is not really blind; his eyes are open, but the faculty of seeing, in the true sense of the word, appears to have been denied him. Was it not Dr. Johnson who said “that some men learn more on a Hampstead stage coach than others in a tour of Europe?” It is a great thing to have discriminating eyes--such as, for instance, the eyes of a naturalist. It has been well said that whenever you have learned to discriminate the birds, and animals, and things of a country, it is as though new eyes were granted to you; not outward eyes, but inward, for we open a new set of eyes directly we begin to comprehend the details of a thing. (Thomas Spurgeon.)
2 Kings 6:19
And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way.
The guidance of life
The prophet went boldly into their midst, as Alfred went into the camp of the Danes, and to the confused men he said, “This is not the place, and this is not the city.” He misdirected them, and led them to Samaria, exactly the place where they did not wish to be. Now, Elisha did all this with a generous purpose: and his action stands redeemed by the magnanimity that he cherished. But isn’t it a picture of much of that misleading and misdirection that is perpetually befalling us in life?
I. Mistaken routes! “This is not the way, and this is not the city! Isn’t it true of thousands of men that they are under an illusion on that point? You know there must be the one path in life that is best for a man. There must be one path for a man through this world that is better than any other, a path that suits him better, in which he realises his personality, and in which he will render the best service to the community. There must be one path that is best. But is anything more clear than the fact that a great number of men in this world have never got into that path, and live without plan and without purpose? Isn’t it true of multitudes of lives that they are altogether misdirected, aimless, purposeless? Mr. Seton, the great traveller, adverts in one place to the difficulty of keeping in a straight direction. There is a tendency in men always to turn imperceptibly to the right hand or to the left. So in Australia you will set out in the morning for some particular settlement in the distance. All day you travel along believing that you are in the right path. You are delighted, about sunset, to see the settlement, but when you arrive you find it is the place you left in the morning. You have taken a circuit, you have wandered. Isn’t that a picture of multitudes of lives? They wander in the wilderness. There is a picture of wandering, drifting--an aimless, purposeless life! And I say it is a picture of the life that multitudes live. The last thing in their life that they think about is a programme--a progress. Mistaken routes!
II. Treacherous guides! How many men and women, at every street-corner, who are ready to attract you into pathways that lead to death. “This is not the way,” they say--the way to the Sunday school--“this is not the city.” What is then? “The racecourse,” they tell you, “the theatre;” and so they lead you to Samaria. There was a case given in the papers, of a shipwreck on the coast of Australia, whilst under the direction of an able pilot. It was a most mysterious incident, but when they came to examine the pilot they found that he was blind. The ship had been under the direction of a blind pilot. They have established a rule now to examine the vision of pilots every few months. Blind pilots! There are plenty of them about. They are only too ready to give you the direction. Some of them would mislead you from ignorance, some from malice, a great many for the sake of interest. In our great cities we have blind pilots to steer you into the fogs of unbelief and pessimism and atheism; blind pilots to lead you into practices and pleasures which destroy the soul. Treacherous guides! blind guides! What else? Fatal goals. “And he led them into Samaria.” They opened their eyes with astonishment to find themselves in Samaria. And a great many people open their eyes with astonishment, as they get further on in life, at the particular places at which they have arrived. They start life with design and with exalted hopes, but a few years afterwards how many find that instead of arriving at Jerusalem, they have arrived at Samaria.
III. The Divine Guidance. Look at all nature to-day! It is a wonderful assistance to us on this point. Look at inanimate nature! Look at the great beautiful world! How is it that this world is such a vision of order and loveliness? Oh! you say, it is because every atom has its place, has its task, and the world at large is so magnificent, so superb, so musical, because the individual atoms on which it is built are properly adjusted and rightly ordered. The magnificence of the whole is the consequence of a just disposition of the atom. Scientists tell us that every atom has its characteristics, its place, its service, and the grandeur of the world is the result of the well-ordered atom. I had almost said that if an atom were out of its place, the balance of the world would be broken, nay the world itself would be broken. Do you think that every atom that makes this planet is justly disposed, and yet God takes no care of a man? Can you believe for a moment that there is a government over elections, and not a government over souls? It is not a question of theology. A man is shut up to it by the very science of our age, that there is nothing accidental but that a great law pervades all nature, directing and controlling, and shaping everything to a splendid consequence. And if you leave inanimate nature, and come to what I may call instinctive life, you see just the same. Look at birds--your migratory birds! Is there anything more astonishing than the way in which they understand their pathway, and their goal. That does not look like chaos. And it is almost more wonderful still with insects. A great French naturalist says that he sometimes takes insects in a dark box for miles and miles. They know nothing about the direction in which he is going. They have never been there before, and yet when he returns after releasing them he finds them there. How is it? Well, he says, it is because they have a topographical consciousness. “Topographical consciousness!” That explains it. And so they find their way back in that deft and astonishing manner. Almost more wonderful still is it with the butterfly. If there is a fantastic creature in the world it is the butterfly. It moves zigzag, arbitrarily here and there, and away yonder over the garden-wall. You say it is all arbitrary. No! it is not. Butterflies know their way about. They move in one given direction. Moths and butterflies are said to come from Southern France, and even from Central Africa; and these dainty delicate creatures find their way across seas, and continents. Doesn’t it look as if, after all, there were a great Thinker at the back of things? Butterfly, bee, bird, all have a singular instinct of direction. Now what I want to say to you is this (and I always like to find a naturalistic basis for a spiritual doctrine)--do you think that there is a law to guide a bird from Africa through the veiled heavens; a law to guide an insect across a country; a law that pilots a moth for thousands of miles; and that there is no law that governs the individual life of humanity? You can’t think it. Look up to God for guidance in all the questions of your creed. There are plenty of people to give you a creed, but no man gets the whole truth that way. Each man must go to God for himself, and the Spirit of God shall guide you into all truth. And in all earthly things seek that guidance. (W. L. Watkinson.)
2 Kings 6:25-33
And there was a great famine in Samaria.
Famine, a judgment of God
The language of truth, you perceive, formed the first portion of his words, and the language of despair the conclusion.
I. That whatever evil is sent upon a country, is sent by God. This is confirmed by a passage in the prophet Amos (Amos 3:6), in which the prophet says, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Here is a great king, with a mighty army, to beset a nation, nominally for his own purpose, after the designs of his own heart, without any reference to God at all; but in reality, simply and plainly accomplishing what God has commanded and declared beforehand should be done. Then you know the history of the plagues of Egypt, the manner in which the locusts were sent upon the land, and the way in which “there were lice in all their quarters.” God sent them there; He having determined that evil should come upon the people.
II. That wherever sin abounds, judgment is to be expected. But God has positively declared that sin shall be punished. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.” Men may use all their wisdom; but their wisdom is utter folly.
III. That notwithstanding sin is to be followed by judgment, yet judgment is God’s “strange work.”
IV. That doubting God’s willingness to show mercy, provokes the lord. So that you perceive, the determination of God is, that men shall, sooner or later, acknowledge Him: while on the other hand, we know that belief honours Him. (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter