Then Elisha said, "Take the arrows!" So he took them, and Elisha said to the king of Israel, "Strike the ground!" So he struck the ground three times and stopped.
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 put his hands upon the king's hands.
—This is part of one of the strangest narratives in the Old Testament. Elisha is on his death bed, "sick of the sickness" wherewith he "should die." A very different scene that close sick chamber from the open plain beyond Jordan, from which Elijah had gone up; a very different way of passing from life by fiery chariot than by wasting sickness! But God is as near His servant in the one place as in the other, and the slow wasting away is as much His messenger as the sudden apocalypse of the horsemen of fire. Here is a prophet dying; and his last words are not edifying moral and religious reflections, nor does he seem to be much concerned to leave with the king his final protest against Israel's sin, but his thoughts are all of warfare, and his last effort is to stir up the sluggish young monarch to some of his own enthusiasm in the conflict with the enemy. It does not sound like an edifying death-bed. People might have said, "Ah, secular and political affairs should be all out of a man's mind when he comes to his last moments." But this man thought that to stick to his life's work till the last breath was out of him, and to devote the last breath to stimulating successors who might catch up the torch that dropped from his failing hands, was no unworthy end of a prophet's life.
I. HERE WE HAVE POWER COMMUNICATED. We, too, if we are Christian men and women, have a Gospel of which the very kernel is that there is to us a communication of power. And the very name of that Divine Spirit whom it is Christ's greatest work to send flashing and flaming through the world, is the Spirit of Power. And so the old promise that ye shall be clothed with strength from on high is the standing prerogative of the Christian Church. There is not merely some partial communication, as when hand touched hand, but every organ is vitalised and quickened; as in the case of the other miracle of this prophet, when he stretched himself on the dead child, eye to eye, and mouth to mouth, and hand to hand; and each part received the vitalising influence. We have, if we are Christian people, a Spirit given to us, and are "strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man." Then, further, let me remind you that this power, which is bestowed on condition of contact, is given before duties are commanded. Further, this strength communicated is realised in the effort to obey Christ's great commands. Joash felt nothing when the hands were laid upon him, but, perhaps, some tingling. But when he got the bow in his hand, and drew the arrow to its head, the infused power stiffened his muscles and strengthened him to pull; and though he could not distinguish between his own natural corporeal ability and that which had been thus imparted to him, the two co-operated in the one act, and it was when he drew his bow that he felt the strength.
II. AND NOW, LOOK AT THE PERFECTED VICTORY THAT IS POSSIBLE. When the arrows, by God's strength operating through Joash's arm, had been shot, the prophet says, "The arrow of the Lord's victory... thou shalt smite... till thou have consumed." Yes, of course, if the arrow is the Lord's arrow, and the strength is His strength, then the only issue corresponding to the power is perfect victory. There is no reason as from any defect of the Divine gift to the weakest of us why our Christian lives should have ups and downs, why there should be interruptions in our devotion, fallings short in our consecration, contradictions in cur conduct, slidings backward in our progress. There is no reason why, in our Christian year, there should be summer and winter; but according to the symbolical saying of one of the old prophets, "The ploughman may overtake, the reaper, and he that treadeth out the grapes him that soweth the seed." In so far as our Christian life is concerned, the perfection of the power that is granted to us involves the possibility of perfection in the recipient. And the same thing is true in reference to a Christian man's work in the world; God's Church has ample resources to overcome the evil of the world. The fire is tremendous, but the Christian Church has posses. sion of the floods that can extinguish the fire.
III. THE PARTIAL VICTORY THAT IS ACTUALLY WON. "Thou shouldst have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten the Syrians till they were consumed. But now thou shalt conquer but thrice." All God's promises and prophecies are conditional. There is no such thing as an unconditional promise of victory or of defeat; there is always an "if." There is always man's freedom as a factor. It is strange; I suppose no thinking, metaphysical or theological, ever has solved, or ever will, that great paradox of the power of a finite will to lift itself up in the face of, and antagonism to an infinite will backed by infinite power, and to thwart its purposes. "How often would I have gathered... and ye would not." Here is all the power for a perfect victory, and the man that has it has to be contented with a very partial one. A low expectation limits the power. This man did not believe, did not expect that he would conquer utterly, and so he did not. You believe that you can do a thing, and in nine cases out of ten that goes nine-tenths of the way towards doing it. Small desires block the power. Where there is an iron-bound coast running in one straight line, the whole ocean may dash itself on the cliffs at the base, but it enters not into the land; but where the shore opens itself out into some deep gulf far inland, and broad across at the entrance, then the glad water rushes in and fills it all. Make room for God in your lives by your desires, and you will get him in the fulness of His power. The use of our power increases our power. Joash had an unused quiver full of arrows, and he only smote thrice.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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