"But what is your servant, a mere dog, that he should do this monstrous thing?" said Hazael. And Elisha answered, "The LORD has shown me that you will become king over Aram."
might recover. His illness was not mortal. And yet his death was certain, and Hazael's conscience told him that he was already a murderer in his heart. As Elisha thinks of all the trouble and suffering that shall come upon Israel through Hazael's instrumentality, he can no longer restrain his feelings, lie bursts into tears. When Hazael asks him why he weeps, it is then that the prophet tells him all the cruelties which he will perpetrate upon God's people. This tale of horrors called forth the question from Hazael, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" It was only then that Elisha showed him that he knew that murder was already in his mind. He quietly says, "Behold, the Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria." Hazael then went back to Benhadad, and gave him an answer very different from that which Elisha had really given to him. Instead of giving him the whole message, he gives him merely a part, tells him that he shall recover, omits that it has been revealed to the prophet that he shall surely die. The morrow came; and on the morrow Hazael was a murderer. Despite all his protestations of weakness and inability to do "great things," he - the king's trusted servant - betrays his master's confidence and takes away his life. Taking a thick cloth and dipping it in water, he spread it upon the king's face, either when he was asleep, or under pretext of cooling and refreshing him, so that the breathing was stopped and the king died. Terrible succession of falsehood, treachery, and murder. We learn from this incident -
I. THE POSSIBILITIES OF EVIL IN THE HUMAN HEART. Many persons deny the depravity of human nature. They deny the story of the Fall. They object to such ideas, and regard them as theological dogmas, and the mere creations of narrow, hard, illiberal minds. But these truths of the fall of man and the depravity of human nature are something more than theological dogmas. They are facts of experience - painful, indeed, and humiliating to human pride, but facts nevertheless. And here it may be stated that to believe in the fall of man and the depravity of human nature is quite consistent with the deepest human sympathy and love. To believe in the possibilities of evil that there are in the human heart is quite consistent with believing in its great possibilities of good. The Bible, which teaches man's fall, teaches also that man was made in the image of God, and that it is possible yet for that lost and faded image to be restored. The Bible, which tells man that he is a sinner, helpless, condemned, perishing, tells him also that, in the infinite mercy of that God against whom he has sinned, a way of salvation has been provided; that the Savior is the Son of God himself; that we may have "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins;" and that "whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." It is for our own good that we should know what possibilities of evil there are in the unregenerate heart. What use is it to say, "Peace! Peace!" when there is no peace? What avails it for the watchman to cry," Ali's well!" if the enemy are not only at the gates, but actually within the city? He who would help men to do the right and overcome the wrong must faithfully point out to them the possibilities of evil that are within their own heart. Who that knows human nature, that knows the facts of history, can doubt that such possibilities exist? Look at Hazael, hitherto the faithful, trusted servant, stooping over the bedside of his master, and calmly and deliberately taking away his life. He had the ambition to be King of Syria, and he wades to the throne through his master's blood. Who that knows what crimes men will commit when under the influence of covetousness, intemperance, hatred, or some other passion - men who otherwise would have shrunk from the very mention of such acts - can doubt the possibilities of evil within the human heart? There are possibilities of evil even in good men. The old nature is not taken away. "When I would do good," said St. Paul, "evil is present with me, so that how to perform that which is good I find not." "For I see a law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." What, then, is the difference between a Christian and an unregenerate man? There are possibilities of evil in them both, but the Christian strives against the evil, whereas the unregenerate man yields to sin and loves it. The Christian may fall, but if so, he is filled with penitence. The Christian will have his faults, but, if so, he acknowledges them and seeks help to forsake them. "Faults!" says Thomas Carlyle, in his lectures on 'Hero-Worship,' "the greatest of faults is to be conscious of none." Yes; there are possibilities of evil, there are actualities of evil, in the best of men. Christ might still say to an assembly of even his own disciples, "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone at a fallen sister or an erring brother."
II. THE DANGER OF IGNORING THESE POSSIBILITIES. Hazael did not become a murderer all at once. The old Latin saying is, Nemo repente fit turpissimus - "No one becomes suddenly very wicked." It is true. Perhaps a few years before this if any one had told Hazael that he would be a murderer, he would have been highly indignant. Even now he asks, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" It is uncertain whether this exclamation of Hazael refers only to Elisha's prophecy about the cruelties he would perpetrate on Israel, or whether it refers also to the suggestion of Elisha that he was to be the murderer of Benhadad. If it refers to the murder of the king, then the exclamation would express surprise at the idea of his venturing to lift his hand against his master. If it only refers to the subsequent cruelties which he was to commit, it shows in any case that Hazael did not know of what he was capable. Shakespeare's representation of Brutus when meditating the murder of Julius Caesar, to which he had been incited by other conspirators, throws light upon Hazael's feelings. "Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar I have not slept. Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream: The genius and the mortal instruments Are then in council; and the state of a man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers then The nature of an insurrection." It is, indeed, a dangerous thing to tamper with temptation. There is that affinity between the evil which is in our own heart and the temptations which are without, that there is between the gunpowder and the spark. It is wisdom to keep the sparks away. It is wisdom to keep away from the temptation. "Vice is a monster of so hideous mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace." It is "fools" who make a mock at sin. It is a foolish thing to make light of the guilt of sin in God's sight. It is a foolish thing to make light of the power of sin in our own hearts. "Lead us not into temptation."
III. THERE IS ONLY ONE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THESE EVIL TENDENCIES IN OUR OWN HEARTS: THAT SAFEGUARD IS THE GRACE OF GOD. Of the power of that grace Hazael knew nothing. Temptation upon temptation came crowding into his mind. The first was the great ambition to be king. He has yielded to that long since. It has taken complete possession of his mind. Then there came the temptation to carry a false message to his master, who had reposed such confidence in him. He yielded to that. Then there came the temptation to take away his master's life. It was a strong one, no doubt. There was but that weak, helpless king, upon a bed of sickness, between him and the throne. One little act, which no one would suspect, and the object of his ambition would be attained. But if he had resisted the other temptations, this one might never have assailed him at all, or, if it had, he would easily have resisted it. The reason of his fall was the want of a ancient force within. We need something more than human to conquer the Satanic power of sin. "What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?" Hazael had no restraining power to check his own evil tendencies, no resisting power to stop the temptation at the door, ere it entered and took possession of his heart. He seems to have had a feeling of shame, as when he became confused before Elisha's steady glance. But shame, by itself, with no other superior influence to sustain it, is easily vanquished. Lust, covetousness, ambition, intemperance, - every one of these is able to put shame to flight. The immoral man - he has long since trampled on shame. The miser, the covetous man - he will stop at nothing that will increase his possessions. The ambitious man - he will not allow shame to hinder him in the desire for power and place. The drunkard - shame has long since ceased in his besotted mind; no blush is seen upon his bloated face. No; if we are to resist evil, if we are to conquer sin, it must be in some power stronger than poor human nature can supply. Hazael did not know that power. He trusted in his own sense of shame, in his own sense of what was right, and that failed him. He who had said, "What is thy servant, this dog, that he should do this great thing?" on the morrow took his master's life. Contrast Hazael's exclamation with Joseph's when he was tempted: "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Ah! there was something there to which Hazael was a stranger. There was the personal presence of a personal God; there was the fear of offending that holy God; there was the fear of grieving that loving heavenly Father who had watched over Joseph when his brethren had forsaken him, and who had provided for all his wants. Hazael's feeling is more like that of Peter, "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I" - the expression of wounded pride, of boastful serf-security. Yet Peter fell into the very sin of which he had expressed such horror only a few hours before. It is not such self-confidence, but a humble feeling of our own weakness and an attitude of entire dependence upon God, that will really Keep the door barred against temptation. One or two practical applications.
1. Be on your guard against the beginnings of evil. If you yield to one temptation, no matter how small and insignificant it may be, others are sure to follow in its wake.
2. Be charitable toward the faults and failings of others. When we know what possibilities of evil there are in our own hearts, how can we have the presumption to sit in judgment upon others? If others have fallen and we are secure, perhaps it was because we were not exposed to the same temptations. We are to consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
3. If you have not yet experienced the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus and the power of Divine grace, seek them now! Let it be your earnest prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." If you would be safe. from the possibilities of evil that are in your own heart, and from the temptations of a godless world, then your prayer should be now and always, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." - C.H.I.
1 Kings 19:15), where we are told that Elijah after his return from Horeb anointed him to be a king. The next time he is spoken of it is as a Prime Minister to the King of Syria, and a messenger sent to the prophet. Strangely enough, Ben-hadad sends to make inquiry of one who is a servant of the God repudiated by his own nation. The king wishes to know whether he will recover from his illness. He sends a present by the hand of Hazael. Some selfish design was detected therein by the prophet. The prophet, in reply to the inquiry, says that Ben-hadad may, in the ordinary course of things, recover, but he soon sees that a fatal end is at hand; he suspects a sinister design in the messenger. Shuddering awe steals over the prophet. Tears begin to flow down the cheeks, but no word comes from the lips. A vision is before Elisha's eyes. Hazael waits. At length he asks, "Why weepeth my lord?" Then the prophet foretells what Hazael himself will do, desolating lands and destroying the defenceless. Hazael exclaims, "Am I a dog, that I should do this great thing?" — meaning either that he was not so low down as to do such evil, or that he, a mere dog, could not accomplish so much. This in harmony with the revised rendering, The probable intention was to repudiate the opinion formed of him by the prophet as being evil and unworthy. He half suspected the tears had reference to the evil he would do, and yet he seems not to have acknowledged to himself how powerful were the germs of evil in him for working wrong to others, and especially how treacherous were his secret plottings against the king.
Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?
I. LET US MARK ITS CAUSES. Men do not care to know themselves, and therefore do not study their own hearts. They want know every thing and every one but themselves. They would fain tear away the veil of mystery, and learn the wonders of the spiritual, traverse the Universe, measure the Infinite, and understand the Eternal. But they care not for knowing that which concerns them most — the true character of their own souls. Self-examination is a duty which we are always able to put off. The results of negligence' are not at once apparent to ourselves, while others are scarcely able to detect them at all, and thus it is too often postponed to what we deem the more urgent pressure of other calls. It shares the common fate of work that may be done at any time — no time is fixed for it at all. So long as all goes prosperously without, as there is no violent shock to disturb the too complacent estimate we are apt to form of ourselves and our own performances, or so long as we are occupied in the active duties of the world or the Church, there is but little opportunity, and less disposition for us to turn the thoughts in upon ourselves with the view of ascertaining the true state of our own hearts. Very often does affliction thus become a blessing to our souls. It compels retirement, — it affords leisure for thought, Pit shuts out from us a thousand influences that bewilder and mislead, — it disposes to careful searching of heart. Just in the same proportion are times of unbroken prosperity dangerous, from their inevitable tendency to hurry the spirit on in a whirl of perpetual excitement and pleasure, — to intoxicate it with high thoughts of its own capacities and achievements, — to induce a sense of security at the very hour that the danger may be most imminent, and the necessity for stern, manly resistance greatest. But we must not forget that with all our efforts to know ourselves, — however sincerely they may be commenced, and however diligently prosecuted — there are influences which will deceive and baffle our most careful scrutiny. We can scarcely conceal from ourselves the fact that circumstances often reveal to a man himself, and to others what he really is, and that in a good as well as bad sense. There are powers which sometimes lie undeveloped in the mind just because there have not been opportunities for their display, until some sudden circumstance arise to call them forth, and the man rises to the grandeur of the occasion. So, even in our own experience, we have often seen hours of affliction call forth heroic qualities of heart, which in brighter and happier days lay inactive. There are often depths of depravity in human hearts unsuspected and unrevealed till some temptation, perhaps more subtle or more powerful than ordinary, or coming possibly at a time of special weakness, serves to disclose the sad secret. The enemy has planned an assault with consummate craft, he comes in some unguarded hour, and then there start up, wormed into sudden life, passions that had lain utterly dormant, and men are drawn into sins from the very mention of which at other moments they would have recoiled with horror. Hazael might have passed through life with the reputation of a bravo captain, a loyal subject, a faithful friend; others would never have dreamed of the fierce passions that were surging within his breast, and seeking some outlet, had not temptation assailed him, and revealed the cruelty, the ambition, the lust which converted him into a traitor, a murderer, a monster. So may it be with us. These hearts are both deceitful and desperately wicked, and their deceit is shown chiefly in hiding their wickedness. Ever are they blinding us to the existence of the evils we have most to dread, and persuading us that we possess some good which has no reality but in the fancies of our own deluded pride and self-confidence. They are like treacherous pools grown over with rich verdure, that conceals the dark deep waters of death that lie below. Experience is truly the sternest of teachers; there are no lessons so valuable as his; none, perhaps, that are so likely to be remembered. Yet here he is continually found powerless. Our hearts find a thousand excuses. Pride induces forgetfulness, and so we fall into the same error, to expiate it by the same penalty. It seems to require a thousand warnings to make us feel what Solomon teaches, himself having learned it only by a discipline the most humbling, "He that trusteth his own heart is a fool." There is, too, a blinding influence in self-love, which aids the deception of which we speak. The standards by which, for the most part, we judge ourselves are very different from those which we apply to other men. To all this Satan ministers by the craft with which he ever seeks to work out his purposes. He is like a skilful general who does not at once unmask his batteries and attack the fortress in its strongest points, but, on the contrary, makes gradual approaches, accustoms his troops to victory, and depresses his foes by slight advantages gained at weak places in the lines of defence, meanwhile husbanding his resources and concealing his preparation, until the time comes to spring the mine and lay low the citadel. Rarely is it his policy to seduce at once to some heinous transgression.
II. THE RESULT. It is here in the case of Hazael, and it has been seen in multitudes besides. Men, unconscious of their own feebleness, blind to the dangers which surround them, assured of their own security, and infatuated by that wretched self-love which makes them believe that they cannot sink to the same depths of sin as others, go on until they are betrayed into some act of wickedness which covers them with shame. It was thus with Peter. Little could he calculate the results of that self-dependence which he was nurturing within his breast; he could never lose his love or forfeit his loyalty to the Master to whom his heart was so strongly attached. The Lord warned him in common with others. Or take the case of Lot: a young man, full of life, energy, and spirit, he was about to part from his honoured uncle, having chosen the fair city of Sodom for his residence. True, the people were very wicked, but the land was very rich. True, he must dwell in the midst of much that would vex his righteous soul. But what of that? there was money to be made — his herds would increase — he would be a great man, and that with him, as with too many still, was the grand, the deciding point — he need not be partaker in the sins of those among whom he dwelt; he worshipped God, and could worship Him in Sodom even as elsewhere. Is it not ever so? Tell that fierce, passionate, wayward youth, who will grow up to be the murderer: "Those unguarded lusts, to which thou art giving the reins, will drive thee to foulest crime, and involve thee in most terrible destruction — thou art sowing the wind, but shalt reap the whirlwind — thy heart will become the abode of every vile principle — thy life one dark catalogue of sins against God and man — thy death will be one of ignominy and shame." Would not his answer be: "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" Or he who is now railing against the truth of God, as if it were a lie. There was an hour when he dared not have spoken thus. Had you stood by him when first he listened to the demon voice that whispered in his ear the suggestions of doubt, or when he lisped forth in stammering accents his own first defiance of the Gospel; when first he joined in the laugh against the truth, fancying himself clever, and bold, and brave, because he had ventured to shock what he called the prejudices of some earnest servant of God, by holding up to contempt what he deemed most sacred — had you as an anxious friend given him then the faithful warning, "Beware; thou art taking the first step on a downward path; thou shalt go on and on to a contempt of all religion; thou shalt become a poor miserable sceptic, having no faith in thine own wretched creed, yet labouring to draw others to an acceptance of it" — he would have laughed you to scorn. "What! am I not to think for myself? must I walk in the old ruts, and receive the old dogmas, and utter the old shibboleth? because I am not a slave of prejudice am I become an infidel?" "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" There is here to-day a young man just losing the early fervour of his profession — that first love which seemed once to be so intense that nothing would ever check or damp it. He is growing more careless; some wound to his self-love, or some idle fancy, has driven him from a post of Christian labour; he is just beginning to cast off restraints by which he has hitherto been held. Had you the gift of inspiration. could you hold him up before himself as he will be by and by, a cold, heartless, profitless professor, whose religion is to him little more than a burden, content with a formal attendance on a Sabbath morning at the house of God — would he not start back with horror from the vision, and exclaim, "Oh no! I cannot come to that state of wretched lukewarmness; I do not choose to be bound as others are; I like to take my own course, but I would not sink to such a level as that." There is a man wholly wrapt up in the world. He never thinks, talks, works for anything else. He might as well, nay, far better, have no soul — he treats it with such utter indifference. Was he always thus? Ah, no! There was a time when he trembled — kindled with emotion — felt that one day or other he would be a Christian. He fancied he could pause at his own pleasure; he never thought it was possible for him to sink into the selfish unfeeling worldling that he now is. If this be the true account of human nature, if such be the weakness of our own heart, how manifest the folly and guilt of that pharisaic spirit in which so many indulge — justifying themselves and condemning their brethren. Then how does the whole show us the need of that great provision which God has made! Such being our hearts, thus wayward, thus deceitful, thus ignorant, what need for that Holy Ghost who alone can give wisdom, strength, holiness!
(J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
1. The wicked propensities in our hearts are oft hidden from us. We are ignorant of the capabilities for evil and for good that lie in us. Hazael knew not his own heart. He would not have acknowledged that he was so ambitious, unscrupulous, or murderous. We have all a realm of mystery within. There are many offshoots in the dark passages of the heart. Few dare to lift the thick veil that hangs over some of them. We have secret rooms, only revealed by the moving of sliding panels. The panels are sometimes not easily distinguishable. We are deceived in ourselves. We are not born utterly depraved, but our natures, like a silent machine, turn out incessantly sins of various shades and degrees of enormity. One piece of ploughed ground in winter appears as brown and free from weeds as another, but let the rains descend and the spring sunshine rest upon it, then up will come the weeds choking the young crop of grain. So with hearts. One man may be like another for a time, but soon circumstances will show what evil is hidden in the soul of one and goodness developed in the other. Both may be ignorant of what can be developed. Irwine the common-sense vicar said to his former pupil Donnithorne: "A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature. He carries within him the germs of his most exceptional action; and if we wise people make eminent fools of ourselves on any particular occasion, we must endure the legitimate conclusion that we carry a few grains of folly to our ounce of wisdom."
2. If certain evils existent in germs in our souls were revealed, we should possibly deny their presence. We are like Hazael, unwilling to have a poor or bad opinion of ourselves. We see our portrait reflected in the camera, but we go away and "straightway" forget what manner of men we are. That amiable-looking boy at school would repudiate the possibility of his ever breaking a mother's heart by his wildness and gambling. That proud bridegroom would repudiate the possibility of his ever speaking harshly or treating brutally that trusting, orange-blossom-crowned girl whose rounded arm rests on his, and whose full eyes reflect his love. The "I will cherish" becomes at times the "I have crushed." That cultured man, noble in mien and lofty in position, would repudiate the suggestion that his little weakness would one day bring him down to the level of the poor fellow, who with tattered garb and blotched face hangs round the corner public waiting to earn a copper by holding a horse. Circumstances are so powerful in developing changes of mind we little conceived. The evil course we enter upon is like getting on a trolly on the inclined plane; if we once lose power over it, we go rushing down to destruction at a rate constantly accelerated.
3. All the hidden sin of the soul can be revealed by God. Elisha was enabled to reveal Hazael to himself. God gave him the power. God's knowledge of us is not the result of observation and judgment, as man gains knowledge of his fellow, but is absolute knowledge. Christ when on earth needed not that any should testify of men, for He "knew what was in man." Without attempting to prove to men that they were sinners, He held up the torch of truth before the conscience, and made men convict themselves; as when Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord"; or when the young ruler went away sadly because he had great possessions; or when accusers of a weak woman sunk away from Him who said, "He that is without sin let him cast the first stone at her." As a skilful musician can place his fingers on the keys and bring out sweetest music or reveal the defects of the instrument, so Christ touched the human soul and revealed its hidden truth or sounded its discordant notes. He shows us that to be sinful is bad enough, but that to be hardened and unabashed therein is frightful.
4. When the sinful state is revealed, alas! warning is not always taken. Hazael should have taken the words of the prophet as an intimation that he was to be merciful to others and to himself. But, however he may shake and shudder at the image of himself presented, he turns not away from the evil. The "means to do ill deed made ill deeds done." Every man has need to be watchful. The cable is not stronger than the weakest link, nor the character than the hidden meanness. The secret sin does not grow in a day, though it may germinate in a moment. A Scotch preacher beautifully illustrated this by referring to the tiny seed dropped by the passing bird into a crevice of a rock, and which, sprouting, grew, and in process of years by its mighty roots moved the massive rock until it toppled over into the loch. So we must beware of the trifling thought of sin. We must search by the power of God's Spirit. Let us be sincere in the searching, and firm in the eviction of the hidden evil. Is it evil temper, cheating, backbiting, murdering character, sly tippling or open drunkenness, harshness and cruelty? Away wit]i it, in God's strength!
I. Hazael failed to take into account THE INFLUENCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES UPON HUMAN CHARACTER. There is a doctrine of circumstances utterly at variance, not only with the teachings of Scripture, but also with the experience and deepest convictions of mankind — a doctrine which asserts, or appears to assert, that circumstances make men, and that the only difference between the noblest saint and the basest criminal is a difference simply in the structure of the brain, and the character of the surroundings. Some men teach this, but no man believes it, or acts upon it, either in his feelings respecting his own deeds, or his judgments of the moral character of the actions of his friend. But we must, while rejecting a doctrine so monstrous, yet remember that, in a very real sense, circumstances have a power over character and life.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES BRING MEN INTO NEW TEMPTATIONS NEVER FELT BEFORE. Hazael, King of Syria, or even with the throne within his reach, would be a very different person from Hazael, the honoured servant of his master. Hazael's language must not be regarded as hypocritical, but as the language of one who had not sounded the depths of his own character, and who knew nothing of the changes the altered circumstances would bring to him.
III. My text seems to suggest that MUCH OF WHAT PASSES FOR VIRTUE AMONGST US MAY SIMPLY BE VICE NOT MANIFESTED BY CIRCUMSTANCES. How much do women who are sometimes boastful owe to the fact that the world is harder in its judgments on their sins than in the case of the other sex! How much to the fact that they are more protected by circumstances! Let conscience utter its voice! Not always because you were holier or truer to God than your brother; but because you were never exposed to his temptations, because in the providence of God you have been more protected from yourself or others. The rich man knows nothing of the temptations of the man hard pressed by circumstances, and hence his hard and unjust censures. The poor man, protected by his very poverty, knows not the temptations of those nursed in the lap of wealth; hence, when he hears of the sins of the other, he flatters himself on his superiority. He owes it not to his moral heroism, but to his surroundings. I have spoken much of the power of circumstances. Let no man think he is the creature of his surroundings. By God's grace he may rise above them and triumph over them, making his very passions minister to his success, and making his enemies his benefactors.
(H. W. Beecher.)I. THE FACT THAT A MAN HAS A NATURAL ABHORRENCE OF A CERTAIN SIN IS NO GUARANTEE THAT HE WILL NOT COMMIT THAT VERY SIN. Hazael is true to human nature. Sin is insidious, and one sin is evolved out of another sin. Sin sometimes is like a snowball that is rolled down hill where the snow is deep. It grows very fast. Beware of the beginnings of sin, for there is no tropical growth that can develop so rapidly as a sin which springs up in the hot-bed of a heart that is untrue to God.
II. A GOOD DISPOSITION AND A GENERAL DESIRE TO DO RIGHT IS NO GUARANTEE THAT ONE WILL NOT END HIS CAREER IN OUTBREAKING SIN. Hazael was undoubtedly a suave, pleasant-humoured, amiable man. Ben-hadad had been a great king, and a very good judge of men, and Hazael's conduct had been such that his master put implicit trust in him. Hazael was politic and amiable and all things to all men, but no one suspected him of definite purpose to do an evil thing, and it is not probable that he had such purposes.
III. DEFINITE PRINCIPLES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE THE ONLY GUARANTEE THAT ONE WILL MAINTAIN A GOOD CAREER TO THE END. Lacking these, Hazael was overthrown. Lacking these, you will be overthrown. You are like a ship that has had an accident at sea and, uncontrolled, has been drifting about at the mercy of wind and wave; but some skilled engineer has gone down among the chaos of broken machinery and mended it, and the captain, with the wheel in his hands again, and with all the force of the great engines in the heart of the vessel answering his command, goes bravely forward in the teeth of the gale. The man or the woman with a genuine desire to be good, but with no definite committal, drifts about at the mercy of circumstances. But on the day when you give your heart to Christ, permit Him to come into your heart and take command, you begin a career that is steadily onward, doing right whatever the circumstances or the conditions that may surround you.
IV. WE SHOULD BEWARE OF THE CHARACTER OF OUR SECRET MEDITATIONS. Beware of the things you think about when you are alone, when you are day-dreaming; the things you allow to come back into the mind and sun themselves in the warmth of your imagination and desire. Why should you be so careful as to the character of these things? Now that is a most important question, for I am sure it is a very insidious temptation to people who have many good desires and good impulses, people who would shrink from any open proposition to do evil, to assume that there is no harm in allowing the imagination and musing-room of the soul to harbour unlawful guests. Yet see what it did for Hazael. That prophecy was like a flash of lightning into the devil's tinder-box that was in Hazael's mind and heart. If his mind and heart had been pure and good he would never have dreamed of not waiting until God opened the way for him to be king. But his imagination and heart were all primed, and the devilish fuse was laid, and it needed only the lighted match to transform this man Hazael, whom everybody supposed, and who thought himself to be, an amiable good kind of a man, into a liar and a murderer.
V. EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES OVER WHICH WE HAVE NO CONTROL ARE OFTEN A POTENT FACTOR IN OUR LIVES. The coming of Elisha to Damascus and his prophecy concerning Ben-hadad and Hazael, were factors which brought Hazael's career to a focus. Something may happen to-morrow which you know nothing about now, which may cause you to commit a sin which you would not to-night believe to be possible.
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)
I. SENTIMENTS OF ABHORRENCE AT GUILT ARE NATURAL TO THE HUMAN MIND. Hazael's reply to the prophet, shows how strongly he felt them. This is the voice of human nature, while it is not as yet hardened in iniquity. Some vices are indeed more odious to the mind than others. Providence has wisely pointed the sharpest edge of this natural aversion against the crimes which are of most pernicious and destructive nature; such as treachery, oppression, and cruelty. But, in general, the distinction between moral good and evil is so strongly marked, as to stamp almost every vice with the character of turpitude. Present to any man, even the most ignorant and untutored, an obvious instance of injustice, falsehood, or impiety; let him view it in a cool moment, when no passion blinds, and no interest warps him; and you will find that his mind immediately revolts against it, as shameful and base, nay, as deserving punishment. Hence, in reasoning on the characters of others, however men may mistake as to facts, yet they generally praise and blame according to the principles of sound morality. With respect to their own character, a notorious partiality too generally misleads their judgment. But it is remarkable, that no sinner ever avows directly to himself, that he has been guilty of gross and downright iniquity. Such power the undeniable dignity of virtue, and the acknowledged turpitude of vice, possesses over every human heart. These sentiments are the remaining impressions of that law which was originally written on the mind of man.
II. THAT SUCH IS MAN'S IGNORANCE OF HIS OWN CHARACTER, SUCH THE FRAILTY OF HIS NATURE, THAT HE MAY ONE DAY BECOME INFAMOUS FOR THOSE VERY CRIMES WHICH AT PRESENT HE HOLDS IN DETESTATION. This observation is too well verified by the history of Hazael; and a thousand other instances might be brought to confirm it. Though there is nothing which every person ought to know so thoroughly as his own heart, yet from the conduct of men it appears, that there is nothing with which they are less acquainted. Always more prone to flatter themselves than desirous to discover the truth, they trust to their being possessed of every virtue which has not been put to the trial; and reckon them. s-elves secure against every vice to which they have not hitherto been tempted. As long as their duty hangs in speculation, it appears so plain, and so eligible, that they cannot doubt of performing it. The suspicion never enters their mind, that in the hour of speculation, and in the hour of practice, their sentiments may differ widely. Their present disposition they easily persuade themselves will ever continue the same; and yet that disposition is changing with circumstances every moment. The man who glows with the warm feelings of devotion imagines it impossible for him to lose that sense of the Divine goodness which at present melts his heart. He whom his friend had lately saved from ruin, is confident that, if some trying emergency shall put his gratitude to proof, he will rather die than abandon his benefactor. He who lives happy and contented in frugal industry, wonders how any man can give himself up to dissolute pleasure. Were any of those persons informed by a superior spirit, that the time was shortly to come when the one should prove an example of scandalous impiety, the other of treachery to his friend, and the third of all that extravagant luxury which disgraces a growing fortune; each of them would testify as much surprise and abhorrence as Hazael did, upon hearing the predictions of the Prophet. Sincere they might very possibly be in their expressions of indignation; for hypocrisy is not always to be charged on men whose conduct is inconsistent. Hazael wan in earnest, when he resented with such ardour the imputation of cruelty. In such cases as I have described, what has become, it may be inquired, of those sentiments of abhorrence at guilt, which were once felt so strongly? Are they totally erased? or, if in any degree they remain, how do such persons contrive to satisfy themselves in acting a part which their minds condemn? Here, there is a mystery of iniquity which requires to be unfolded. Latent and secret is the progress of corruption within the soul; and the more latent, the more dangerous is its growth. No man becomes of a sudden completely wicked. Guilt never shows its whole deformity at once; but by gradual acquaintance reconciles us to its appearance, and imperceptibly diffuses its poison through all the powers of the mind' Every man ham some darling passion, which generally affords the first introduction to vice. One vice brings in another to its aid. By a sort of natural affinity they connect and entwine themselves together; till their roots come to be spread wide and deep over all the soul. When guilt rises to be glaring, conscience endeavours to remonstrate. But conscience is a calm principle. Passion is loud and impetuous; and creates a tumult which drowns the voice of reason. It joins, besides, artifice to violence; and seduces at the same time that it impels. For it employs the understanding to impose upon the conscience. It devises reasons and arguments to justify the corruptions of the heart. The common practice of the world is appealed to. Nice distinctions are made. Men are found to be circumstanced in so peculiar a manner, as to render certain actions excusable, if not blameless, which, in another situation, it is confessed, would have been criminal. By such a process as this, there is reason to believe, that a great part of mankind advance from step to step in sin, partly hurried by passion, and partly blinded by self-deceit, without any just sense of the degree of guilt which they contract. It is proper, however, to observe, that though our native sentiments of abhorrence at guilt may be so born down, or so eluded, as to lose their influence on conduct, yet those sentiments belonging originally to our frame, and being never totally eradicated from the soul, will still retain so much authority, as, if not to reform, at least, on some occasions, to chasten the sinner. It is only during a course of prosperity, that vice is able to carry on its delusions without disturbance. But, amidst the dark and thoughtful situations of life, conscience regains its rights; and pours the whole bitterness of remorse on his heart, who has apostatised from his original principles. We may well believe that, before the end of his days, Hazael's first impressions would be made to return.
III. THAT THE POWER WHICH CORRUPTION ACQUIRES TO PERVERT THE ORIGINAL PRINCIPLES OF MAN IS FREQUENTLY OWING TO A CHANGE OF THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES AND CONDITION IN THE WORLD. How different was Hazael the messenger of Benhadad, from Hazael the king; he who started at the mention of cruelty, from him who waded in blood! Of this sad and surprising revolution, the Prophet emphatically assigns the cause in these few words; The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. That crown, that fatal crown, which is to be set upon thy head, shall shed a malignant influence over thy nature; and shall produce that change in thy character, which now thou canst not believe. Whose experience of the world is so narrow, as not to furnish him with instances similar to this, in much humbler conditions of life? So great is the influence of a new situation of external fortune; such a different turn it gives to our temper and affections, to our views and desires, that no man can foretell what his character would prove, should Providence either raise or depress his circumstances in a remarkable degree, or throw him into some sphere of action, widely different from that to which he has been accustomed in former life. The seeds of various qualities, good and bad, lie in all our hearts. But until proper occasions ripen and bring them forward, they lie there inactive and dead. They are covered up and concealed within the recesses of our nature; or, if they spring up at all, it is under such an appearance as is frequently mistaken, even by ourselves. This may, in one light, be accounted not so much an alteration of character produced by a change of circumstances, as a discovery brought forth of the real character which formerly lay concealed. Yet, at the same time, it is true that the man himself undergoes a change. For opportunity being given for certain dispositions, which had been dormant, to exert themselves without restraint, they of course gather strength. By means of the ascendancy which they gain, other parts of the temper are borne down; and thus an alteration is made in the whole structure and system of the soul. He is a truly wise and good man, who, through Divine assistance, remains superior to this influence of fortune on his character, who having once imbibed worthy sentiments, and established proper principles of action, continues constant to these, whatever his circumstances be; maintains, throughout all the changes of his life, one uniform and supported tenor of conduct; and what he abhorred as evil and wicked in the beginning of his days, continues to abhor to the end. The instance of Hazael's degeneracy leads us to reflect, in particular, on the dangers which arise from stations of power and greatness; especially when the elevation of men to these has been rapid and sudden. Few have the strength of mind which is requisite for bearing such a change with temperance and self-command. From the whole view which we have now taken of the subject, we may, in the first place, learn the reasons for which a variety of conditions and ranks was established by Providence among mankind. This life is obviously intended to be a state of probation and trial. No trial of characters is requisite with respect to God, who sees what is in every heart, and perfectly knows what part each man would act, in all the possible situations of fortune. But on account of men themselves, and of the world around them, it was necessary that trial should take place, and a discrimination of characters be made; in order that true virtue might be separated from false appearances of it, and the justice of Heaven be displayed in its final retributions; in order that the failings of men might be so discovered to themselves, as to afford them proper instruction, and promote their amendment; and in order that their characters might be shown to the world in every point of view, which could furnish either examples for imitation or admonitions of danger. In the second place, We learn, from what has been said, the importance of attending, with the utmost care, to the choice which we make of our employment and condition of life. It has been shown, that our external situation frequently operates powerfully on our moral character; and by consequence that it is strictly connected, not only with our temporal welfare, but with our everlasting happiness or misery. He who might have passed unblamed, and upright, through certain walks of life, by unhappily choosing a road where he meets with temptations too strong for his virtue, precipitates himself into shame here, and into endless ruin hereafter. In the third place, We learn from the history which has been illustrated, never to judge of true happiness, merely from the degree of men's advancement in the world. Always betrayed by appearances, the multitude are caught by nothing so much as by the show and pomp of life. They think every one blest who is raised far above others in rank.
(H. Blair, D. D.)
1. Let me remark, to a heart not wholly corrupted, such self-repudiation as this of Hazael is natural. Are we to look on this Syrian prince, as he stands in the presence of Elisha, merely as a hypocrite? I think not. I believe his recoil from his future guilt, as here narrated, was perfectly genuine. I believe that when he uttered the words, "Is thy servant a dog?" he was quite unable to realise that he could ever be the author of the crimes predicted. The story, therefore, is true to nature. Suppose Cain had been told he would one day lift his club against his brother and fell him to the ground, would he not have said, and said with quite as much passionate feeling as Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog?" Can we doubt that David would have uttered the same language, had any one predicted his conduct in the matter of Uriah? I believe the time was when Judas even would have started back, in deprecating protest and shuddering terror, asking in relation to the awful crime he afterwards committed, "Is thy servant a dog?" This is only the voice of human nature, not yet hardened in iniquity. When no passion blinds him and no interest warps the feelings of his heart, the most ignorant and untutored man will often revolt from sin and crime.
2. Although to a heart not wholly corrupted, such self-repudiation as this of Hazael is natural, man's ignorance of his own character is such that he may one day be guilty of the very sins which for the present he believes to be impossible. Elisha was right; Hazael was wrong. He did not know his own heart. "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." We know who said that. Christ knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. "Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." Let us pause here and gather up a few solemn lessons for ourselves.(1) First of all, let us beware of what is evil in its first beginnings. That solid, fossilised rock is only the result of successive accretions of loose sand; and a character like Hazael's is only the result of the action and power of principles of evil permitted to grow up and develop in the soul, without hindrance or check. Life nowhere grows by freaks. That infant needs pure air and nourishing food. Even so with every malign influence and wicked way; feed them, and they will grow.(2) Once again. Let us beware of what is evil in its propelling rower. Hazael went quickly to ruin. It is the story of many a prodigal. I am willing, however, to admit that a change of circumstances and condition may, in a very real sense, have an important power over human character and life. I do not believe that man is the creature of circumstances, that it is circumstances that make men, and that the only difference between the noblest saint and the basest criminal is a difference simply in the structure of the brain, and the nature of their position in life. At the same time, circumstances have often a real influence on human character. Had Hazael never been flattered by Ben-hadad — for in the opinion of many he supplanted Naaman — had he never been brought within the circle of a court, the unsanctified ambition might never have possessed him to seize a crown; and had he not seized the crown — holding the royal stirrup, so to speak, the very moment he was grasping the royal sceptre — he would never have been the man of blood he afterwards became. Our experience of life must be narrow indeed, if we cannot recall kindred illustrations. Take Robert Burns:
Oh! had he stayed by bonnie Doon,
And learned to curb his passions wild,
We had not mourned his early fate,
Nor pity wept o'er Nature's child.Southey, speaking of the first Napoleon, has this remark: "He had given indications of his military talents at Toulon; he had also shown a little of a remorseless nature at Paris in his earlier years; but the extent either of his ability or his wickedness was at this time known to none, and perhaps not even suspected by himself." New circumstances bring new temptations. That lad, brought up in the quiet of the country, enters on a city life. In a few years the old habits, in fact the very old ways of thinking and looking at things, are all changed. Be gentle in your judgments upon others; be severe, most severe, in your judgments upon yourself.
(H. T. Howat.)
Homilist.I. THE SENSE OF VIRTUE IN HUMAN NATURE. When the prophet with tears told Hazael the heartless cruelties he would perpetrate — he seemed to have such a sense of virtue within him that he was shocked at the monstrosity, and said, "What! is thy servant a dog?" We need not suppose that he feigned this astonishment, but that it was real, and that it now produced a revulsion at the cruelties he was told he would soon perpetrate. Every man has a sense of right within him; indeed, this sense is an essential element in our constitution, the moral substance of our manhood, the core of our nature, our moral ego; it is what we call conscience.
II. THE EVIL POSSIBILITIES OF HUMAN NATURE. This man, who was shocked at the idea of perpetrating such enormities at first, actually enacted them a few hours afterwards. The elements of the devil are in every man, though he may not know it. The vulture eggs of evil are in all depraved hearts; it only requires a certain heat of the outward atmosphere to hatch' them into life. The virtue of many men is only vice sleeping. The evil elements of the heart are like gunpowder, passive, until the spark of temptation falls on them. The greatest monsters in human history were at one time considered innocent and kind. "Many a man," says a modern author, "could he have a glimpse in innocent youth of what he would be twenty or thirty years after, would pray in anguish that he might be taken in youth before coming to that." What is the moral of this? The necessity of a change of heart.
III. THE SELF-IGNORANCE OF HUMAN NATURE. How ignorant of himself and his heart was Hazael when he said, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing?" Men do not know what they are. Self-ignorance is the most common of all ignorance; the most culpable of all ignorance; the most ruinous of all ignorance.
IV. THE RESILIENT VELOCITY OF HUMAN NATURE. To-day this man seemed in sympathy with the just and the good, to-morrow his whole nature is aflame with injustice and cruelty; to-day he soars up with the angels, to-morrow he revels with the torturing fiends. Souls can fall from virtue swiftly as the shooting stars. One hour they may blaze in the firmament, the next lie deep in the mud.
I. SEE HOW HABITS ARE FORMED. When one act is followed by another of the same sort, it is as when foot follows foot, and a path is beaten. A single drop, distilling from the mossy hillside, does not make a stream, but let drop follow drop, and the stream will flow, and gather force and volume, till. it hollows the .valleys, chisels the rocks, and feeds the ocean. So habits, strong as life, come from little acts following one another, drop by drop, "Every one is the son of his own works," says Cervantes, and Wordsmith, more beautifully still, "The child is the father of the man."
II. SEE HOW ONE SIN BEGETS ANOTHER. Just as the graces come, not alone — there were three of them, the ancients said, so one virtue leads another by the hand; and music lingers in the echo, which sometimes is softer than the parent voice. So, too, in the inverse kingdom of evil, one wrong necessitates another, to hide it, or accomplish its ends It is a small thing to lie, when one has committed a crime which will not bear the light; and a common thing to add to one crime another greater than itself. "Dead men tell no tales," and when the telling of tales cannot be prevented otherwise, the silence of the grave is invoked; and the man becomes a murderer, who before was only too cowardly to have a less sin known. Sin is like the letting out of waters, at first a trickling stream a finger might stop, at last a flying flood sweeping man and his works alike into ruin. Sin is a fire; at first a spark a drop might extinguish, at last a conflagration taking cities on its wings, and melting primeval rocks into dust.
III. Consider, also, WHAT COMPLICATIONS GROW OUT OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. If nothing new happened, a man might, in some measure, control his sin; but the new and unexpected is always taking place, and therefore the sinner must do something else, something he did not expect and did not wish to do, but the doing of which is necessitated by what has occurred; anal failure in this is failure in all. Men do not leap at a bound into crime; they are pushed into it by a force from behind. They would often stop if they could — they even mean to — but they are launched into a current, which, without their aid, widens and deepens, and, peradventure, becomes a Niagara. There are two lessons to be learned:
1. Fear to sin. It is the fundamental lesson of life. "Stand in awe and sin not." Beware of doctrines, the practical effect of which is to make you think less of the evil of sin. Let Sinai and Calvary be your teachers. The laws of God in this world are terribly severe. Expect at least as much in the world to come. The love of God does not prevent an infinite amount of suffering in tiffs life; it is presumption to believe it will in the next. The love of God is no indiscriminate indulgence; it is not less love for the law than for those who fall beneath its infraction. The world of to-day proves it; the world in all ages does.
2. Another lesson. Behold your eternal future in the moving present. As the oak is in the acorn, and the river in the fountain, so the man is in the child, and so eternity is in time. So eternal destinies are ripening as fruits of time.
(W. J. Buddington, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. LET US EXPOSE AND EXPOUND THIS IGNORANCE. Our ignorance of the depravity of our own hearts is a startling fact, Hazael did not believe that he was bad enough to do any of the things here anticipated. "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" He might have been conscious enough that his heart was not So pure but it might consent to do many an evil thing; yet crimes so flagrant as those the prophet had foretold of him, he thought himself quite incapable of committing. Ah, the ignorance of Hazael is ours to a greater or less degree! God only knows the vileness of the human heart. There is a depth beneath, a hidden spring, into which we cannot pry. In that lower depth, there is a still deeper abyss of positive corruption which we need not wish to fathom. God grant that we may know enough of this to humble us, and keep us ever low before Him!
II. But now I turn to THE PRACTICAL USE OF OUR SUBJECT, looking at it in two ways. — WHAT IT FORBIDS AND WHAT IT SUGGESTS. The depravity of our nature forbids, first of all, a venturing or presuming to play and toy with temptation. When a Christian asks, "May I go into such a place?" — should he parley thus with himself? "True, temptation is very strong there, but I shall not yield. It would be dangerous to another man, but it is safe to me. If I were younger, or less prudent and circumspect, I might be in jeopardy; but I have passed the days of youthful passion. I have learned by experience to be more expert; I think, therefore, that I may venture to plunge, and hope to swim where younger men have been carried away by the tide, and less stable ones have been drowned." All such talking as this cometh of evil, and gendereth evil. Proud flesh vaunteth its purity, and becomes a prey to every vice. Let those who feel themselves to be of a peculiarly sensitive constitution not venture into a place where disease is rife. If I knew my lungs to be weak, and liable to congestion, I should shrink from foul air, and any vicious atmosphere. If you know that your heart has certain proclivities to sin, why go and tempt the devil to take advantage of you? But, again, knowing how vile we are by nature, knowing indeed that we are bad enough for anything, let us take another caution. Boast not, neither in any wise vaunt yourselves. Presume not to say, "I shall never do this; I shall never do that." Never venture to ask, with Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" My experience has furnished me with many proofs that the braggart in morality is not the man to be bound for. Above all, avoid those men who think themselves immaculate, and never fear a fall If there be a ship on God's sea the captain of which declares that nothing can ever sink her, stand clear, get into the first leaky boat to escape from her, for she will surely founder. Give a ship the flag of humility, and it is well; but they that spread out the red flag of pride, and boast that they are staunch and trim, and shall never sink, will either strike upon a rock or founder in the open sea.
III. And let this fact, that we do not know our own baseness, teach us not to be harsh, or too severe, with those of God's people who have inadvertently fallen into sin. Be severe with their sin; never countenance it; let your actions and your conduct prove that you hate the garment spotted with the flesh, that you abhor the transgression, cannot endure it, and must away with it. Yet ever distinguish between the transgressor and the transgression. Think not that his soul is lost because his feet have slipped. Imagine not that, because he has gone astray, he cannot be restored. If there must be a church censure passed upon him, yet take care that thou dost so act that he, in penitence of spirit, may joyously return. Be thou as John was to Peter.
IV. Leaving now this point of caution, let us consider, by way of counsel, what positive suggestions may arise. H we be thus depraved, and know not the full extent of our depravity what then should we do? Surely, we should daily mourn before God because of this great sinfulness. Full of sin we are, so let us constantly renew our grief. We have not repented of sin to the full extent, unless we repent of the disposition to sin as well as the actual commission of sin. We should deplore before God, not only what we have done, but that depravity which made us do it.
V. And when thou hast done, take heed that thou walkest every day very near to God, seeking daily supplies of His grace.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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