Elisha told him, "Take a bow and some arrows." So he himself took a bow and some arrows.
so, but he was able to give encouragement to others. When King Joash sees the prophet on his deathbed, he feels how great is the loss which Israel is about to sustain. Good men are a nation's strength. And so Joash, bending in tears over the dying prophet's couch, exclaims, "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" But Elisha wants to keep up his heart. He wants to teach him that, though the prophet dies, the prophet's God remains. The workmen pass away, but the work of God goes on.- So the true Christian will ever look beyond his own death to the glory that awaits him, beyond the present hour of darkness or difficulty or delay to the ultimate triumph of the Church of Christ. It was in this spirit that the martyrs died. What a vision of the future lit up their suffering faces! What a prophetic instinct in such words as those which' Bishop Latimer spoke to his fellow-reformer Ridley, as they stood side by side, waiting for the faggots to be kindled: "Be of good cheer, brother Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as by God's grace shall never be put out." And here Elisha on his deathbed gives utterance to prophetic words. He told Joash that the arrow, which, in obedience to his directions, he had shot forth from the open window, signified the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. But Joash was slow to learn the double lesson of God's unlimited power and the necessity-for human effort which this simple illustration taught. Elisha had already told him that he should smite the Syrians till they were consumed, and then, to teach him furthermore the necessity for perseverance and patience, he commands him to smite upon the ground. Joash, seeing that the prophet had already revealed to him so much and encouraged him so greatly, might have continued until he was requested to cease. But instead of that, he only smote three times, and then gave up. Thus he illustrated his own want of faith in God's almighty power, his own want of patience and perseverance, and therefore how little he deserved God's interference on his behalf. The old proverb truly says, "God helps those that help themselves." The chief lesson of this incident is - Want of faith a hindrance to success in Christian work.
I. CHRISTIANS SHOW WANT OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE DIVINE PROMISES. It was so here in the case of Joash. He had stood beside the bedside of Elisha in a state of utter dismay. It had seemed to him as if he already saw the downfall of his kingdom, as if all other resources were useless if the man of God, who had so often guided kings and people to victory, was taken away. But look at the encouragement which Elisha had given him. He had taken his thoughts away from human wisdom and human strength, and turned them upward to the almighty, unlimited power of God. "The arrow of the Lord's deliverance." What suggestions of power, of help, of victory, were in those simple words! The Lord's deliverance! That almighty power which delivered Israel out of the hand of Pharaoh; that almighty power which turned back the waves of the Red Sea, and brought the people over safely on dry land; that almighty power which, only a few years since, filled the dry valley with water and thus gave victory to Israel, and which, by smiting the Syrians with blindness, delivered Israel out of the hands of their enemies; - that almighty power, O Joash, will be with you, will deliver you. Oh, what a thrill of determination, of resolute, energetic purpose, should have been awakened in his mind! Might he not reasonably have felt, "Yes, the Lord is on my side. Victory is sure. I shall redouble my efforts against the enemies of Israel, against the workers of evil. Out of gratitude to God I shall serve the Lord only"? But Joash failed when put to the test. When Elisha gave him an opportunity of showing his faith by his own efforts, he only showed how little faith he had in the promises of God. If we believe that God's Word is true, that his promises are true, it is but reasonable that he should expect us to act on them. To every unsaved soul God says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The promise is salvation. But there is a duty, a condition, a necessity, coupled with it. That duty is faith in Christ - taking him as our Savior, serving him as our King. How many act like Joash! They would like to get to heaven, but they are not willing to tread the narrow path. They would like to obtain salvation, but they are not willing to take God's way of obtaining it. They say, "If I'm to be saved, I shall be saved." To any one who has been thinking about eternity and the judgment to come, whose heart has been softened by sickness or bereavement, who has been impressed by any message from God's Word, but has not yet accepted Christ, we would say, "Stay not thine hand. Let not the good impressions pass away." "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Arise today, and in the strength of God smite your unbelief, smite the tempter to the ground. Strive to enter in at the narrow door. Then shall that good impression, then shall that warning voice, prove to be to you the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. Take the step, fulfill the condition, if you would obtain the blessing. The same applies to Christian work. How many call themselves God's servants, how many expect the reward of the faithful servant, who are doing absolutely nothing for the Lord. Jesus has given one very precious promise to his people: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world;" but it is to those who in some way are seeking to fulfill that command, Go ye therefore, and preach the gospel to every creature." The truth is, the promise depends upon the work, and the work depends upon the promise. We cannot expect God's blessings if we are not doing his work. And we cannot do his work if we do not meditate much on his promises.
II. CHRISTIANS SHOW WANT OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH THEY HAVE PROOFS OF DIVINE POWER. In the history of his nation, even in the history of Elisha's life alone, Joash had many proofs of Divine power, yet still he showed a want of faith in God. In the whole history of God's kingdom in the world, in the whole history of the Christian Church, we have proofs of God's power, yet where is our faith at all proportionate to the strength of evidence on which it rests? There is no stronger testimony to the power of the gospel than the history of modern missions. It is just seventy years since the first missionaries landed in Madagascar; it is not thirty years since the terrible persecutions ceased there, by which the missionaries were driven out of the island, and the little companies of Christians who survived the-massacre met for worship in secret, in dens and caves of the mountains, and were in constant danger of their lives. Yet in that large island today there is a Christian population of nearly three hundred thousand, the idols have been publicly burned, and the Christian religion is publicly recognized by the state. What hath God wrought! Think of the work which Dr. Moffat accomplished among the degraded tribes of South Africa, not so many years ago. The conversion of Africaner, the Hottentot chief, under his ministry, is well known. Every one warned Moffat against him as a man who was a terror to the whole neighborhood. But Moffat thought he was just the man to go to with the gospel He went, and was the means of leading the savage chief to Christ, and "Africaner's changed life convinced many, who had never believed in them before, of the efficacy of Christian missions." Think of the progress of Christianity in Japan, in India, in China. The following testimony was recently borne to mission work in China in his report to the Foreign Office by the late British Consul at Newchwang. He says, "The labors of the missionaries indirectly benefit our merchants, manufacturers, and artisans. I further believe that, partly owing to the Christian principles disseminated by the missionaries, the tone of morality among the Chinese people has during the last twenty years perceptibly attained a higher platform." The Rev. William Swanson, a veteran missionary, and lately moderator of the English Presbyterian Church, states that when he went to China twenty-six years ago there were only five small churches at the treaty ports. Now, in going from Canton to Shanghai, and traveling twenty or twenty-five miles a day, he could sleep every night, with one or two exceptions, in a village having a Christian church. The first time Charles Darwin visited the island of Tierra del Fuego, he said that the people there were irreclaimable. He saw four Christian Fuegians at a meeting in England, and was so impressed by what he heard of the work of the missionaries that he became an annual subscriber to the funds of the Missionary Society, and said he should feel proud if the committee would think fit to elect him one of its honorary members. When we think of these things, of the wonderful work done in the South Sea Islands, and of the many nations where heathenism has yielded to the preaching of the cross, surely we may well say, "What hath God wrought!" Today, just as in St. Paul's day, the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." If we doubt the power of the gospel, our doubts are in the face of overwhelming and irresistible facts.
III. THE EVIL RESULTS OF THIS WANT OF FAITH. This want of faith has ill results on life and practice and Christian work. Many who went part of the way with Christ turned back and walked no more with him because of their want of faith. It is so still. Want of faith leads to low expectations and feeble efforts. True faith in God's presence and power, instead of making us inactive and careless, is the greatest stimulus to activity. It rouses us to put forth all our energies. It makes us patient under difficulties. It causes us to persevere even when we see no immediate result. How many a good work has been begun, but given up, because of want of faith! This was nearly being the case at one time with what has since proved one of the most successful missions to the heathen. After twelve years' labor in the island of Tahiti, in the Pacific, the mission seemed to be an utter failure. All but one of the missionaries left the South Sea Islands. At home the directors of the London Missionary Society seriously discussed the abandoning of the mission. But two members of the committee, men of strong faith in God and the gospel, strenuously opposed this, and proposed a season of special prayer for a blessing on its work. This was agreed to; letters of encouragement were written to the missionaries; and while the ship that bore these letters was on her way to Tahiti, another ship was bearing to England the rejected idols of the people. How had this happened? Some of the missionaries who had left the island were led in some way to return. One morning one of them went out into the fields for meditation, when he heard, with a thrill of joy, the voice of a native raised in prayer to God - the first token that their teaching had been blessed in Tahiti. Soon they heard of others. A Christian Church was formed. The priests publicly burned their idols; and thus, after a night of toil of sixteen years, the dawn at last broke (see 'Outlines of Protestant Missions,' by Rev. John Robson, D.D.). What a rebuke to the weak faith of the directors who had proposed to abandon the mission! What a lesson to every minister and missionary, to every Sunday-school teacher, to every Christian worker, not to stay their hand, even where they see no results of their labor! "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Work done for God never dies. Stay not your hand in the matter of your own spiritual life. Persevere in the conflict with your besetting sins. Persevere in the cultivation of Christian graces. Use the arrow of the Lord's deliverance. Put on the whole armor of God. Persevere also in prayer for others, Never give up as hopeless a single soul. Stay not thine hand. You can't do much for them, perhaps, but God can. Lay the case of erring child or godless friend before God in prayer. Ask him to open their eyes. Ask the Lord Jesus to lay his hand upon them - to speak the word only, and they shall be made whole. Persevere also in Christian work. "Be not weary in well-doing" Leave no work unfinished for which God gives you the strength and the means. Perhaps we have been shooting too few arrows, making too little effort in God's cause. Seek the guidance of God's hand and the power which God's presence gives, and then go forth to win victories for him. - C.H.I.
And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows.
1. God's hand on ours is our only guarantee of success. When Elisha had young King Joash take up the bow and arrows and place the arrow on the string and make ready to shoot, he put his own hands over the hands of the king to illustrate and impress upon the mind of this young ruler that if he gave himself to earnest, resolute attack upon the enemies of God and of His people the hand of God should be with him as a guarantee of victory. The lesson is as important for us as it was for Joash. God calls 'every one of us to fight His enemies and the enemies of mankind. And there is that other warfare in our own hearts, that campaign against our personal besetting sins. God's hand must be on our hand if the arrow shall find its mark and do its execution.
2. We are to smite sin utterly. God seeks to deliver us entirely from sin, but we may limit the deliverance of God by our own conduct. When the prophet told the young king to shoot his arrow eastward towards his Syrian enemy, he exclaimed, "The arrow of the Lord's deliverance." But when, to test the young king, he told him to take up the arrows and smite on the ground with them, his heart was heavy and his soul indignant as he noticed that he struck half-heartedly and that after only three strokes he turned about in a lifeless sort of way as if looking for further directions. Let us not fail of this great lesson, God seeks our complete deliverance from sin. He desires that every enemy which troubles us and hinders us from working out the great purposes to which we are called of Jesus Christ shall be consumed and destroyed. But let us never forget that whether or not this is accomplished depends at the last upon us. It is a solemn thing that we, by our nerveless will, by our flabby lack of purpose, by our mushy indecision may thwart the purpose of Almighty God and continue to live lives far beneath our privilege. Let us smite, and smite, and smite, and yet again, smite, until every wicked passion, until every evil appetite, until every besetting sin shall be smitten to the death in our hearts and Jesus shall be crowned Lord over all.
3. There is no greater danger to the Christian than lack of persistence. Over and over again is this urged upon us in the Bible. Joash failed for lack of persistence. Many a Christian in these later centuries has failed because he gave up in despair by the way.
4. We are in great danger of being too easily satisfied. It may be that King Joash thought that three victories over Syria would be enough. It was not in him to rise up to a high ideal of his mission or to grasp the fulness of God's willingness to make him not only the great King of Israel but the great king of all the world. Because he was easily satisfied his career was short and disgraceful.
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)
1. Israel. Redeemed out of Egypt, in Canaan, where they might have lived in the enjoyment of triumph over all foes. Not in absolute exemption from conflict, but trusting in God and obeying Him, they would never have known defeat. They disbelieved, disobeyed, and as a consequence, there was failure and defeat. Type of a soul which has passed out of death (Egypt) into life (Canaan). But it has left its first love, in which it might have abode in the joys of continuous victory.
2. Israel's enemies. Syria in particular. We find ourselves attacked from different quarters at the same time.
3. Promised deliverance.
(a) (b) 4. The king's error. He erred in not resolving on, and expecting, complete success. "He smote thrice, and stayed." He, as it were, "limited the Holy One of Israel." He certainly manifested a lack of faith and of courage. In the spiritual life we should aim at, and expect, complete success. Be satisfied with nothing short of this. Not to rest while a single foe has a footing in the territory which belongs to God. We are to be "more than conquerors." 5. The king's partial success. Elisha would not have been "wrath" had there not been good cause. Elisha was God's messenger. As when he declared that there should be plenty in Samaria within a given time, and the lord of the court was held guilty for not believing the message, so here. On account of weak faith, we are often only partially successful against our spiritual enemies. Would Naaman have been cured of his leprosy had he dipped in Jordan but thrice, and then stayed? 6. The king's loss through unbelief. He was not aware, possibly, of the grandeur of the opportunity. Perhaps he treated the prophet's simple message with contempt — obeying him merely to indulge the whim of an old and dying man — failing to look beyond the prophet to God who sent him. Perhaps we stumble sometimes at the message because we look no farther or higher than the messenger. He is not talented, famous, but coarse, etc. The king suffered. So do we when this spirit is indulged. (J. E. Robinson.)
(b) 4. The king's error. He erred in not resolving on, and expecting, complete success. "He smote thrice, and stayed." He, as it were, "limited the Holy One of Israel." He certainly manifested a lack of faith and of courage. In the spiritual life we should aim at, and expect, complete success. Be satisfied with nothing short of this. Not to rest while a single foe has a footing in the territory which belongs to God. We are to be "more than conquerors." 5. The king's partial success. Elisha would not have been "wrath" had there not been good cause. Elisha was God's messenger. As when he declared that there should be plenty in Samaria within a given time, and the lord of the court was held guilty for not believing the message, so here. On account of weak faith, we are often only partially successful against our spiritual enemies. Would Naaman have been cured of his leprosy had he dipped in Jordan but thrice, and then stayed? 6. The king's loss through unbelief. He was not aware, possibly, of the grandeur of the opportunity. Perhaps he treated the prophet's simple message with contempt — obeying him merely to indulge the whim of an old and dying man — failing to look beyond the prophet to God who sent him. Perhaps we stumble sometimes at the message because we look no farther or higher than the messenger. He is not talented, famous, but coarse, etc. The king suffered. So do we when this spirit is indulged. (J. E. Robinson.)
4. The king's error. He erred in not resolving on, and expecting, complete success. "He smote thrice, and stayed." He, as it were, "limited the Holy One of Israel." He certainly manifested a lack of faith and of courage. In the spiritual life we should aim at, and expect, complete success. Be satisfied with nothing short of this. Not to rest while a single foe has a footing in the territory which belongs to God. We are to be "more than conquerors."
5. The king's partial success. Elisha would not have been "wrath" had there not been good cause. Elisha was God's messenger. As when he declared that there should be plenty in Samaria within a given time, and the lord of the court was held guilty for not believing the message, so here. On account of weak faith, we are often only partially successful against our spiritual enemies. Would Naaman have been cured of his leprosy had he dipped in Jordan but thrice, and then stayed?
6. The king's loss through unbelief. He was not aware, possibly, of the grandeur of the opportunity. Perhaps he treated the prophet's simple message with contempt — obeying him merely to indulge the whim of an old and dying man — failing to look beyond the prophet to God who sent him. Perhaps we stumble sometimes at the message because we look no farther or higher than the messenger. He is not talented, famous, but coarse, etc. The king suffered. So do we when this spirit is indulged.
(J. E. Robinson.)
I. SHOOTING THE ARROW OF DELIVERANCE. Notice,
1. A call to action. "Take bow and arrows," said the dying prophet. There is a deal of meaning wrapped up in this apparently simple suggestion. Elisha had come to a full end, and like a shock of corn that was fully ripe he was now bending towards the sharpened sickle. The king, who was not remarkable all the years of his life for his devotion to God or to His prophets, is now found trembling and weeping by the side of the sick servant of Jehovah. Then it is that the dying prophet, with more faith and hope and vigour in him even at the last article than the sinful king in his prime and power, exclaims as it were, "Weep not, tremble not, faint not, fear not; I am going, but God is with you. God buries His workmen, but He carries on His work. I die, but God will surely visit you. Do not let this sad event unduly depress you. I must die, for my time has come; but so long as you live, live to purpose, take bow and arrows, let not your hands hang down. Go forth to the battle yet again, and believe in the God to whom I have so long, though vainly, pointed you; for He is the Lord God of Hosts, the God of battles still. Dry up your tears; forsake your grief; take bow and arrows; arm yourself; go forth into the fight, and the Lord my God shall be with you."
2. I notice next that Elisha gives to the king several strict injunctions; indeed, the detail to which he condescends is most remarkable. All through these verses we find a long list of instructions and commands. "Take bow and arrows." "Put thine hand upon the bow." "Open the window eastward." "Shoot." "Take the arrows." "Smite upon the ground." The dying prophet instructs the king in all the minutiae of his immediate duty. The wisest of us need to be divinely directed.
3. Then followed on the king's part implicit obedience. "Take," said the prophet; "and he took." So it is throughout. "Put thine hand upon the bow;" "and he put his hand upon it." "Open the window;" "and he opened it." "Shoot;" "and he shot." "Smite;" "and he smote." All through there is a corresponding obedience on the king's part to the arrangement and suggestion of the prophet. So should it ever be with us and God. Let His imperative be answered by obedient indicative on our part.
4. There follows a hint as to the necessity for personal interest and effort. Read the 16th verse.
5. There was Divine co-operation, for we read "Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands:"
6. Notice next that the window had to be opened. He said, "Open the window eastward. And he opened it." In other words, every obstruction and possible hindrance has to be got rid of. You see the importance of this.
7. Then at last they come to the decisive action. All the rest has been preliminary and preparatory.
II. THE SECOND ACT, THE SMITING WITH THE OTHER ARROWS. This was a symbolical act, as was the first. The flight of the single arrow through the open lattice must have. been readily understood by the king, for it was the custom there and then, as in other lands and times, to throw down the gage of battle, or to hurl a dart, the signal of the war. God has shot out of every window of this Tabernacle arrows of deliverance, if I may so speak; but with this purpose, that we ourselves shall follow up those tokens, and hope and believe that they were prophecies and promises with meaning which must meet with further fulfilment. It remains for us to shoot the other arrows, for we have a quiver full of them. The command was to smite with them on the ground. You see the meaning of that. It is as though Elisha said, "The arrow of God's deliverance has gone forth; it has already found its mark and done its work. You have now, if you will but believe it, these Syrians crouching at your very feet. God has already humbled them, and they are now at your mercy. Smite upon the ground. They are already at your feet. God has delivered them into your hands. Smite! Smite!" The king obeys, but with too little zeal.
1. Declare war against sin. Elisha breaks in upon the king's lamentations with the emphatic words, "Take bow and arrows." It is time not for weeping but for warring. The genius of the gospel is not peace at any price, but truth at all costs.
2. Union is strength. This is the meaning of the second act in this significant drama. "The prophet laid his hands upon the king's hands." Like the officer who sallied forth to capture one of the enemy's forts, after two unsuccessful attempts had been made, asking first of all from his general a grasp of his conquering right hand, so we must know what it is for our weakness to be encompassed in Christ's strength.
3. Claim a complete deliverance. This is the meaning of the next step. The window was opened eastward and through the open window was shot forth the Lord's arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Syria.
4. Then came the fourth act with its momentous lesson, "Fulfil the obedience of faith," and the king failed at this point so that the man of God was angry with him. How slow we are to learn this lesson. It is what we are in secret before God that fixes the amount of victory and blessing we enjoy in our walk and service amongst men. If only Joash had emptied the quiver he would have consumed the Syrians. If only we will he whole-hearted before God, yielding our will wholly and trusting God's promises absolutely, we too shall be completely victorious against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
(F. S. Webster, M. A.)
I. THE PAST DIRECTING THE PRESENT. When we crossed the threshold of the year we did not get rid of the old; for the past is always stretching out its vanishing hands to direct and influence the present. The white-bearded face of Elisha well represents the past, which is over behind us, overlooking our work. The actions, associations, and habits of the past are still with us. We may turn over a new leaf, but we cannot unlearn at once the irregularities of the defective writing on the previous page. We may point the arrow afresh, but the old hands are inevitably influencing the sweep it takes from the bow. This influence is exerted by the past, whether it is good or evil. Virtue and piety reap their immediate, as well as ultimate, harvests. The good deeds of the past are ever stretching forth their gentle hands to guide and bless not only ourselves, but others as well. Who can tell the influence of a mother's prayers uttered by lips long since sealed in death? In the critical moment of her boy's career, it would seem as if a straw would have turned the scale of destiny this way or that. The young impulsive nature is guided and restrained by the mother's prayers answered, the mother's words remembered, the mother's influence exerted; and these have saved him in the hour of danger
II. THE DIVINE CONTROLLING THE HUMAN. "The arrow of the Lord's deliverance " had power in it, not because of the strong hand of Joash who pulled the bow, but mainly because of the prophetic hands that were laid upon him as he did so. Mere human effort is fruitless unless a higher power directs and controls the course and goal of the arrow's flight. We may spread the sails, but they must be filled with heaven-sent breezes. We may sow the seed, but God gives the increase. "Man proposes, but God disposes." We form plans and projects, we bend the bow, and throw all our power into the work lying before us, but unless a higher power is with us, all the determination and foresight we may command are valueless. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." If this is true in regard to temporal concerns, how much more should we recognise its truth in the spiritual sphere. Too long has the enemy oppressed and held dominion over our hearts and our lives. Let us look to the ground we would reconquer and reclaim for the King of kings. Let us resolve that this slavery of our souls to sin shall cease. And as we do so, let us pray for the presence and power of the "hands of the mighty God of Jacob" to strengthen our weakness and give us the victory. But while thus trusting in Divine help, notice that it was the young king who drew the bow. Human effort is as essential as Divine direction. God's promise to help does not warrant idleness. The sense of God's helping us should not paralyse, but should rather stimulate to doing and daring greater things than we have ever hitherto attempted. The narrative suggests that effort must be sustained to be successful. One blow never won a battle. The king stayed his hand after he had discharged three arrows, and the man of God was wrath, and said he should have smitten the ground oftener, and then he would have utterly consumed the foe. So long as God bids us "fight the good fight", we must not cease our warring. So long as His hand is urging us we must smite again and again. Let us not desist, as Joash may have done, from a feeling of tenderness towards me enemy, nor from unbelief in the efficacy of the means ordained of God for our deliverance. Both motives have hindered and crippled the efforts of many a hopeful life. Finally, let us ask ourselves, has "the arrow of the Lord's deliverance" been discharged from our bow at all? Have we declared war against sin and Satan? If not, let us do so before another day closes. Look up and see God's hands held out, waiting, and able to help and to save you, and to rid from the guilt and bondage and pollution of sin. Fight for your life, and the lives of those around you, and all your arrows shall bring help and joy and peace to you and yours.
(David A. Taylor.)
I. LET ME SPEAK OF SOME MATTERS IN WHICH MANY MEN TOO SOON PAUSE. There are some who, having great opportunities, — and we all have them more or less, — shoot only three times when they ought to shoot five or six times.
1. One of these matters is in the warfare with the evil within. Some, as soon as they begin their Christian life, fit an arrow to the string, and shoot down big sins, such as swearing., or drunkenness, or open uncleanness. When they have shot these three times, they seem to think that the other enemies within them may be tolerated. My brother, thou shouldest have shot five or six times.
2. There are some who shoot three times, and then leave off, with regard to Christian knowledge. They know the simple truth of justification by faith; but they do not want to know much about sanctification by the Spirit of God. Why not, my brother? Canst thou be saved unless thou art sanctified? Some are perfectly satisfied with laying again the first principles, always going over those; but they want to know no more. I beseech you, strive to be educated in the things of God.
3. Some, again, sin in this way with regard to Christian attainments. They have little faith, and they say, "Faith like a grain of mustard-seed will save you." That is true. But are you always to be a little one? A grain of mustard-seed is not worth anything if it does not grow; it is meant to grow till it comes to be a tree, and birds lodge in its boughs. Come, my dear friend, if thou hast little faith, do not rest till thou hast great faith, till thou hast full assurance, till thou hast the full assurance of understanding.
4. Others, again, seem satisfied with little usefulness. You brought a soul to Christ, did you? Oh, that you would long to bring another! Do you not remember what the general said, in the war, when one rode up to him, and cried out, "We have taken a gun from the enemy"? "Take another," said the general. If you have brought one soul to Christ, it should make you hunger and thirst to bring another.
5. And this spirit comes out very vividly in prayer. You do pray; else were you not the living children of God at all; but oh, for more power in prayer! You have asked for a blessing; why not ask for a far greater one?
6. The Church of God, as a whole, is guilty here, as to her plans for God's glory. She is doing much more now than she used to do; but even now, though she smites three times, we may say to her, "Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times." Oh, that the Church of Christ had a boundless ambition to conquer the world for her Lord!
II. But now, secondly, let me speak of THE REASONS FOR THIS PAUSING, Why do men come to a dead hall so soon?
1. Some of them say that they are afraid of being presumptuous. You are afraid of being too holy, are you? Dismiss your fear. You are afraid of asking for too much grace; be afraid of having too little. You are afraid of conquering sin; tremble for fear of an unconquered sin. There is no presumption in taking the largest promise of God, and pleading it, and expecting to have it fulfilled.
2. Perhaps one says, "I have not the natural ability to be doing more, or enjoying more." What has natural ability to do with it? When all thy natural abilities are in the grave, and thou lookest only to the spiritual strength of God, then thou shalt see greater things than these.
3. Shall I tell you the real reasons why men pause in their work? With some, it is because they are too dependent upon their fellow-men. This King Joash could shoot when Elisha put his hand on his hand; probably Elisha only did that once, and then left him to himself, and said, "Now, you shoot." Then he only shot three times. There are many Christian people who are a great deal too dependent upon their ministers, or upon some elderly Christian person who has helped them onward.
4. Another reason why some pause is, that they are too soon contented. Joash thought that he had done very well when he had shot three times, and that Elisha would pat him on the back, and say, "How well you have done!" That kind of feeling creeps over many workers for the Lord.
5. Joash, too, I dare say, gave up shooting because he was unbelieving. He could not see how shooting the arrows could affect the Syrians; and he wanted to see.
6. I should not wonder, also, if Joash was too indolent to shoot five or six times. He did not feel in a shooting humour. Now, whenever you do not feel in a humour for prayer, then is the time when you ought to pray twice as much.
7. Joash also probably had too little zeal. He was not wide awake, he was not thoroughly aroused, he did not care for the glory of God. If he could beat the Syrians three times, that would be quite enough for him.
III. But now, thirdly, notice THE LAMENTABLE RESULT OF THIS PAUSING.
1. When Joash had shot three times, he paused; and therefore the blessing paused. Three times he shot, and three times God gave him victory. Do you see what you are doing by pausing? You are stopping the conduit-pipe by which the river of blessing will flow to you. Do not do that; to impoverish yourself must certainly be a needless operation.
2. You will suffer in consequence, as this king did; for, after the three victories, the rival power came to the front again.
3. Others will also suffer with you.
4. Meanwhile, the enemy triumphed.
5. What was even worse, Jehovah Himself was dishonoured.
6. Yet again, glorious possibilities were lost.
IV. THE CURE FOR THIS PAUSING.
1. If we pause in our holy service, or in getting near to God, or in sucking the marrow out of the promises, remember that the enemy will not pause.
2. A cure for this stopping lies in the reflection that in other things we are generally eager.
3. And lastly, this question ought to prevent us from ever pausing Can we ever do enough for our Saviour?
( C. H. Spurgeon.)Mark 3:5), who longed for a widespread deliverance throughout the Holy Land. It is a picturesque story, but more than picturesque. It may be reckoned a parable as well as a tale. For —
I. THERE WAS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY. Though Joash was undeserving (ver. 11, "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord") God was graciously ready to grant him complete escape from impending evil (the arrow of the Lord's deliverance, ver. 17); even as helpless sinners have offered to them, through Divine mercy, present pardon and holiness here, the earnest of complete salvation hereafter.
II. THE IMPROVEMENT OF THAT OPPORTUNITY REQUIRED A PERSONAL EFFORT. And Joash was experiencing a measure of religious revival. His visit to the old prophet woke up stirring associations (tears rolled down his checks as he cried, "My father," etc., ver. 14). Much as the anniversary of a confirmation vow, a return after absence to a religious home, or the voice of a forgotten counsellor once more heard, may touch affectingly the conscience of a backslider. But —
III. THE INADEQUATE EFFORT OF LITTLE FAITH HAD A CORRESPONDINGLY SLIGHT RESULT. Perhaps Joash thought the striking of arrows on the ground too trivial an action for very frequent repetition; perhaps he did not wish his companions to suppose him very obedient to a religious teacher; perhaps he was languid from the mere habit of attending to all sacred duties listlessly; perhaps he was in a hurry to be gone to some other occupation. But want of trust in the Divine revelation must have been the main cause of his curtailed exertion. And the measure of his receiving was proportioned to the small measure of his seeking. God faithfully gave him three victories, after his three strokes, but only three (ver. 25). Too many have in like manner lessened the measure of their peace, holiness, and hope, by not perseveringly using means of grace which might be vastly profitable.
(D. D. Stewart, M. A.)
1. In the direction of success in the daily life men often make a bad stopping. They smite but thrice and stay. Success is duty. The difference between men as to making the most of themselves is due, oftener than we are apt to think, to this simply, whether they smite but thrice and stay, or whether they not only smite thrice but, — go on smiting. "But it is hard," men say. Yes; but everything that gets up in this world must struggle up. One relates how Arago, the Trench astronomer, tells, in his autobiography, that in his youth he one day became puzzled and discouraged over his mathematics, and almost resolved to give up the study. He held his paper-bound text-book in his hand. Impelled by an indefinable curiosity, he damped the cover of the book, and carefully unrolled the leaf to see what was on the other side. It turned out to be a brief letter from D'Alembert to a young man like himself, disheartened by the difficulties of mathematical study, who had written to him for counsel. This was the letter: "Go on, sin, go on. The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness upon your path." Arago went on, and became the first astronomical mathematician of his time, "But I am too old," men say. But use is the law of growth; and the quickest way to bring upon one's self the worst sort of senility is to withdraw from life and the interests and duties of it. "But I would be humble," men say. Yes; but if you do not amount to much, there is all the mere reason you should make the most of yourself. And a true humility is never a withdrawing from service, but is always a readiness to set one's self to even the lowliest service for the love of God and fellow-men.
2. In the direction of overcoming evil habits men often make a bad stopping. They smite but thrice and stay. As some one says, such men are like a man who, attempting to jump a ditch, will never really jump, but will for ever stop and return for a fresh run.
3. In the direction of resisting temptation men often make this bad stopping. They resist thrice, but at the fourth assault they yield.
4. In the direction of advance in the Christian life men often make this bad stopping. Plenty of Christians through a long life do not get much beyond the initial stage of justification.
5. In the direction of becoming Christian, men often make this bad stopping. They smite in the way of at least a partial and outward change of life, etc., but when it comes to a total and irreversible surrender of the self to the Lord Jesus, they stay.
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)
I. THE DIVINE PURPOSE SYMBOLISED. The shooting of an arrow, or the flinging of a dart into an enemy's country was anciently a declaration of war. It signified that the archer and those he represented claimed the territory into which the missile was flung, and unless their challenge was successfully resisted would occupy it. Now eastwards from Samaria, the scene of this interview, was the district which the Syrians had taken from Israel. It was the direction from which their predatory bands came. To the north-east lay Syria itself. The shooting, of the arrow was plainly a declaration of war against Syria. That the prophet's hands were upon the monarch's when it was discharged, signified that it was God who flung down the challenge. Now a challenge to combat by the Almighty is, of course, a prophecy of victory for Him. Here then, by vivid symbolism, we have the Divine purpose to deliver Israel from Syrian oppression declared. God's purposes in the spiritual realm are revealed with equal clearness to us. It is His will that the world shall be evangelised and every Christian perfected. He has shot His arrow over the world. The incubus of devilry that now oppresses it is to be annihilated. The shadow of the Cross is upon every land. Every Christian, too, is to be perfected. We are saved rom hell: we are to be saved from sin. Our spirits are the Lord's: our bodies arid minds are to become His also. All our spiritual enemies are to be conquered, and each wandering thought brought "into captivity to the obedience of Christ." Over the entire life of the believer the Saviour's arrow has been discharged. But these glorious purposes are to be accomplished through human instrumentality. Although the prophet's hands were upon his, it was King Joash who shot the arrow. God intends to conquer the world and our own bad hearts by our agency. In His might, we are to take possession of the world for our Redeemer. Further, as God's agents we should use the wisest means to fulfil His purposes. Joash had to take and use bow and arrow. One might say that only a bow and arrow were used that all the glory might be given to God! But that would be a wrong inference. Bows and arrows in the hands of Chinese troops to-day excite the derision of Europeans. But in the days of Joash, they comprised the most formidable artillery that could be employed in warfare. The symbolic lesson was that Joash was to use the wisest means — to employ all his military might — to effect the deliverance God had planned. We, also, are to do our best for God. We are to plan wisely: we are to labour diligently. We are to make the most of ourselves. Our powers should be trained to their utmost degree of efficiency. Not only for winning others, but also for saving our own souls we should use the best means.
II. A HUMAN RESPONSE INVITED. The King of Israel has been, as it were, in the council-chamber of the Eternal. He has been shown, figuratively but clearly, the Divine will. He is now taken back to the region of practical, everyday life. That is God's purpose, says his mentor. Now show your acceptance of it and responsiveness to it. Take the remaining arrows. "And he took them." "Smite upon the ground" — that is, Smite the ground with the arrows; in other words, Shoot them into the earth. "And he smote" — or shot — "thrice, and stayed." Now here is a mystery. In the seventeenth verse we read, "Thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them": here, "Thou shalt smite Syria but thrice." In the one place we have the Divine purpose; in the other, that purpose as limited by the degree of human responsiveness to it. We are surely taught that God's plans depend for their fulfilment upon our acceptance of them and co-operation in them. This I say, is a mystery. Nothing happens apart from God. His will is surely done. That is most certain. Yet we may refuse to co-operate with Him, and so hinder, if not frustrate, His purpose. That also is undeniable. God's elect will be saved, yet the blood of souls may cling to the skirts of a faithless watchman. God's will shall be done, but we may be condemned for hindering it. God's sovereignty does not lessen our responsibility. How to harmonise these apparently incongruous truths, we do not know. Let us be content to accept them both, although for the present we do not see the relation between them. Joash is an example of low content. He had no ambition to be a David or a Solomon. A comfortable, easy-going life was all he desired. He wanted to be free from the yoke of Syria, but did not aspire to play the role of national hero. We are all too like him in his ignoble satisfaction. In the world we are ambitions. We long for wealth; we thirst for fame. The higher we can climb, and the sooner we can attain, the better we are pleased. But we have no sacred ambition to dare and to do greatly for God. How few pant after holiness or burn with desire to see the world won for Christ! And therefore we shoot but three arrows, when we ought to shoot five or six times. God forgive us our low content, and inspire us with loftier ideals! Let us not be satisfied with what may reasonably be considered all that could be expected — with the formal discharge of recognised duties. Let us form a high conception of what God expects from us, and dare greatly in the attempt to achieve it, Perhaps Joash. was indolent. He lacked energy and perseverance. He had no tenacity of purpose, nor measure of continuance in well-doing. Certainly that is the fault of most of us. We serve God by fits and starts. There are times when we live near Him, and give the devil trouble. We grow rapidly in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Oh, if we could only keep on that level, we should soon become holy! But we do not. Lassitude creeps over us. Reaction sets in. We relapse into indifference. But the real secret of Joash's remissness was, in all probability, unbelief. The Syrians were a powerful nation. Israel was weak through long oppression. And whether we acknowledge it or not, it is unbelief that stays our hands also. The cold fingers of unbelief, laid upon the arm that draws the bowstring, cause it to fall paralysed to the side. The world, the flesh, and thy devil are so real and powerful. There they were, rioting and ravaging, in the days of our fathers. There they are, ruining souls to-day. And there, surely, they will be to the end of the chapter! Is it conceivable that sin can lose its fascination for us, that all our inclinations towards it can be stamped out, and we, old sinners, be changed into the radiant image of the Christ of God? Is it credible that in the outside world drunkenness will be abolished, impurity exterminated, wars ended, and the world, hoary in wickedness, "bound by gold chains about the feet of God"? Hardly! So the arms that are stretched to shoot are palsied. We smite only two or three times. According to our faith is our effort, — and our success. All possibilities are in God. To convert them into actualities, we must believe and endeavour and persevere. We have the objective promise. There must now be the subjective appropriation of it. These two things together spell success. Man without God is impotent. God without man does not choose to work. "God and one man are a majority against the world."
III. A HUMAN FAILURE DEPLORED. "He smote thrice, and stayed. And the man of God was wroth with him." For Joash, by his want of faith and energy, had lost for ever the honour that might have been his. God's will will undoubtedly be done, but if we fail to rise to it and work for it, it will fling us from its triumphant path, and summon others to its side, while we are left to suffer incalculable and eternal loss. No doubt we shall become perfect in heaven, but eternity itself will not compensate for the lack of holy culture here. Christ will win, but we may be denied a place beside Him when, in His chariot of victory, He passes through the eternal gates and the everlasting doors. Erasmus might have been the leader of the reformation of the sixteenth century. He published the Greek New Testament, and also a Latin translation of it. He taught the importance of knowledge of the Scriptures. He gave the initial impulse to the mighty movement which resulted in Protestantism. But when he saw how great a matter a little fire was kindling, Erasmus, timid and fearful, shrank back. Luther and others stepped forward and covered themselves with immortal glory, while Erasmus left a name which is pronounced half with honour and ball with contempt, as that of a learned man who proved a moral weakling, one who saw the light but feared to walk in it. Let us have a holy ambition to excel in the kingdom of God. Let us patiently continue in well-doing, shooting not three arrows, hut five or six. Through Joash's failure, too, Israel suffered. The bondage to Syria continued. Oppression by the foreign invader went drearily on. How far the Christian Church is responsible for the fact that on the eve of the twentieth century the world is so far from God, we cannot tell. It is a question which one shudders to face. Still, it is undoubtedly true that the poverty of our response hinders the completion of God's gracious purposes. God was dishonoured by the monarch's laxity. The Syrians, who blasphemed His name, continued to rule in His land. And by our unspiritual lives and lax efforts God is dishonoured to-day. If we only rose to His purposes and became holy men and women and earnest and successful workers, how greatly He would be glorified! As it is, we don't remain at concert-pitch long enough for the music to rise to His praise. We so soon give in that we bring contempt on the power we profess to work by. Let us rouse ourselves from spiritual sluggishness. Let us shoot, not three arrows, but five or six, or a dozen.
(B. J. Gibbon.)
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