2Ki_5:13. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
MEN universally claim a right to “do what they will with their own;” but they are extremely averse to concede that right to God. Indeed there is scarcely any doctrine against which the carnal heart rises with such acrimony, as against the sovereignty of God. Nevertheless we must maintain that the Governor of the universe ordereth every thing after the counsel of his own will, and dispenseth his gifts “according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.” He once chose the Jews for his peculiar people, not for the sake of any righteousness of theirs, but because he had ordained that he would magnify his grace in them: and for the same reason has he now transferred his favours to the Gentiles. Our Lord, in his first sermon at Nazareth, warned his hearers, that, if they rejected his gracious overtures, the blessings of his Gospel should be transferred to the Gentile world: and, to shew them how futile all their objections were, and how delusive their hopes of impunity in sin, he reminded them, that God had in many instances vouchsafed mercy to Gentiles, not only in conjunction with his people, but even in opposition to them: for that there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha; but them had God overlooked, whilst he shewed mercy to Naaman the Syrian [Note: Luk_4:27.].
The history to which our Lord referred, is that which is contained in the chapter before us: which we propose to consider,
In a way of literal interpretation—
Under the pressure of a leprosy, which was an incurable disorder, Naaman, the Syrian, applied to Elisha for a cure. Doubtless every thing that the Syrian physicians could devise had been tried, but to no purpose. It happened however that an Israelitish maid, whom the Syrians had taken captive, was living in the service of Naaman; and that she, knowing what great miracles had been wrought by Elisha, suggested, that by an application to him her master might be restored to health. The idea being suggested to Naaman, he determined without delay to apply for a cure. This he did erroneously at first to the king of Israel; but afterwards to Elisha himself: but through his own folly and wickedness he nearly lost the benefit which he was so eager to obtain: for, instead of following the direction given him by the prophet, “he turned, and went away in a rage [Note: ver. 12.].” Here let us pause to inquire, what it was that so nearly robbed him of the desired blessing? It was,
His offended pride—
[He had come in great state, and with rich rewards in his hand, to the house of a poor prophet: and the prophet had not deigned to come out to him, but had only sent him word what he must do in order to a cure. This was considered by Naaman as an insufferable insult. In his own country he was regarded with the utmost deference; and was he now to be treated with such indignity by a contemptible Israelite? No: he would not listen for a moment to a message sent him in so rude a way.
Alas! what an enemy to human happiness is pride! How acute are its feelings! how hasty its judgment! how impetuous its actings! But thus it is with all who have high ideas of their own importance. They stop not to inquire whether any insult is intended; but construing every thing according to their own conceptions, they are as full of resentment on account of a fancied insult, as they would be if they had sustained the greatest injury: and in many instances do they sacrifice their most important interests to this self-applauding, but delusive, passion.]
His disappointed expectation—
[Naaman had formed an idea of the manner in which the prophet would effect the cure: nor do we at all condemn the notions he had formed. But what right had he to be offended because the cure was not wrought with all the formalities that he had pictured to himself? If he received the benefit, did it signify to him in what way he received it? or had he any right to dictate to the prophet and to God, in what way the cure should be wrought? Yet behold, because his own expectations were not realized, he breaks out into a passion, and will not accept the blessing in God’s appointed way.
This throws a great light on innumerable occasions of offence which are taken even among good people. We paint to ourselves the way in which we think others ought to act; and then, because they do not answer our expectations, we are offended. We forget that another person may not view every thing in precisely the same light that we do, or have exactly the same judgment about the best mode of acting under any given circumstances; and yet, as though we were infallible, and the other person were in full possession of our ideas, we are offended at him for not acting as we would have him; when most probably we ourselves, had we been in his situation, should not have followed the line of conduct which we had marked out for him. It is surprising how much disquietude this mistaken spirit occasions in men’s own minds, and how many disagreements it produces in the world.]
His reigning unbelief—
[Though Naaman came expecting that a miracle should be wrought by the prophet, yet would he not use the means which the prophet prescribed. He did not expect the effect to be produced by the power of God, but by the mere act of washing in a river; and then he concluded, that the rivers of his own country were as competent to the end desired, as any river in Israel. Thus, because he saw not the suitableness of the means to the end, he would not use the means in order to the end, notwithstanding they were so easy, and so safe.
It is thus that unbelief continually argues: ‘God, I am told, would do such and such things for me, if I would apply to him in the use of such and such particular means: but what can those means effect?’ This is an absurd mode of arguing: for, when God commanded Moses to smite the rock with his rod, did the promised effect not follow, because a stroke of his rod could not of itself produce it? God can work equally by means or without means; and whatever he prescribes, that it is our wisdom to do, in full expectation that what he promises shall surely be accomplished.
When Naaman was made sensible of his folly, and complied with the direction of the prophet, then his disorder vanished; and “his flesh became like the flesh of a little child.” And thus shall we find in relation to every thing which God has promised, that “according to our faith it will be unto us.”]
We now proceed to consider this history,
In a way of spiritual accommodation—
We are not in general disposed to take Scripture in any other than its true and primary sense: though, as the inspired writers occasionally take passages of Holy Writ in an accommodated sense, we feel it to be a liberty which on some particular occasions we are warranted to take. We think it would be too much to say that this history was intended to shew how the Gentiles are to be washed from the guilt of sin; but sure we are that it is well adapted for that end: and, as the leprosy was certainly a type of sin, and the mode of purification from it was certainly typical of our purification from sin by the Redeemer’s blood, we feel no impropriety in accommodating this history to elucidate the Gospel of Christ.
We have here, then, a lively representation of,
The character of the Gospel—
[Sin is absolutely incurable by any human means: but God has “opened a fountain for sin and for uncleanness;” and has bidden us to “wash in it and be clean:” he has even reasoned with us, as Naaman’s servants did with him, saying, “Come now, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.” In all the word of God there is not a more beautiful illustration of the Gospel method of salvation than this. We are simply required to wash in the blood of Christ by faith; and in so doing we shall immediately be cleansed from all sin. And with this agrees the direction given to the jailer, (the only one that can with propriety be given to one who inquires after the way of salvation,) “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”]
The treatment it meets with—
[Multitudes not only disregard it, but turn from it with disgust. In their eyes, the direction, “Wash and be clean,” “Believe and be saved,” is too simple, too free, too humiliating.
It is too simple. What! have I nothing to do, but to believe? Will this remove all my guilt? it cannot be — — —
It is too free. Surely some good works are necessary to prepare me for the Saviour, and to make me in some measure worthy of his favour. Must I receive every thing without money and without price, and acknowledge to all eternity that it is altogether the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, as free as the light I see, or the air I breathe? I cannot but regard such a proposal as subversive of all morality.
Lastly, It is too humiliating. Must I no more bring my good deeds than my bad ones, and no more hope for mercy on account of my past life than publicans and harlots can for theirs? This is a mode of righteousness which I never can, nor will, submit to [Note: Rom_10:3.].
Now persons who argue thus against the Gospel, are not unfrequently full of indignation against it, and against all who believe it. If called upon to do some great thing for the Gospel, they would engage in it gladly, and do it with all their might: but, if invited to accept its benefits by faith alone, they resent the offer as a wild conceit and an Antinomian delusion.]
From the striking resemblance which there is between the conduct of Naaman and that of those who reject the Gospel, we shall take occasion to add a few words of advice—
Bring not to the Gospel any pre-conceived notions of your own—
[Every man, of necessity, forms to himself some idea of the way in which he is to obtain acceptance with God: but when we come to the Holy Scriptures, we must lay aside all our own vain conceits, and sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn what he has spoken, and to do what he has commanded. We must not dictate to God what he shall say, but with the docility of little children receive instruction from him.]
Let not passion dictate in matters of religion—
[Many who hear perhaps a single sermon, or even a single expression, are offended, and shut their ears against the truth from that time. But, if candid investigation be ever called for, surely it is required in the concerns of religion; where the truths proposed must of necessity be offensive to the carnal mind, and where the consequences of admitting or rejecting them must so deeply affect our everlasting welfare.]
Be willing to take advice even from your inferiors—
[Naaman, under the influence of pride and passion, thought himself right in rejecting the proposals of the prophet: but his servants saw how erroneously he judged, and how absurdly he acted. Thus many who are our inferiors in station or learning may see how unreasonably we act in the concerns of our souls, and especially in rejecting the Gospel of Christ. The Lord grant that we may be willing to listen to those who see more clearly than ourselves, and be as ready to use God’s method of cleansing for our souls, as Naaman was for the healing of his body!]
Make trial of the method proposed for your salvation—
[No sooner did Naaman submit to use the means prescribed, than he derived from them all the benefit that he could desire. And shall any one go to Christ in vain? Shall any one wash in the fountain of his blood in vain? No: the most leprous of mankind shall be healed of his disorders; and the wonders of Bethesda’s pool be renewed in all that will descend into it. Only remember that you must wash there seven times. You must not go to any other fountain to begin or perfect your cure: in Christ, and in Christ alone, you must seek all that your souls can stand in need of.]