2 Kings 13:20-21
And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.…
I. We have in this incident a striking illustration of THE POSTHUMOUS INFLUENCE OF GOOD MEN. Nothing in the material world is lost. A grain of sand, however long you crush it, can never be destroyed. You may change its form, — crush it into yet smaller particles, — cause it to enter into new combinations, but you can do no more. The water that is absorbed from the sea is not destroyed; it descends again in showers to enrich the earth. In like manner, human character and influence last for ever. Every man has an influence; in this sense, no man liveth to himself. There is about us all an unconscious influence, what may be termed our personal atmosphere; and there is our conscious influence. The least action or word, even a look, — all make their impression; and issue in results, long after their time. The motion of your hand, or the sound of your voice, produces a succession of pulsations which, like Tennyson's "Brook," "go on for ever." As we thus influence the natural world, so we influence the moral and spiritual world. This unseen yet mighty power, which we all possess, and of which we cannot divest ourselves — which lives in us, and works through us every moment, clothes our lives with a terrible solemnity. Not only is our influence felt during life, it is even felt after we are dead. Our usefulness, or hurtfulness in life, remains in active operation after we are gone. "It may be swallowed up in the great social aggregate, like the rivulet in the river, or absorbed like the dew in the mists and vapours; but it does not, it cannot perish. It survives all the personal fortunes of the individual from whom it emanates on earth; it outlasts the monument, however enduring, that is raised over his dust." Founders of empires, legislators, patriots, philosophers, inventors, reformers, Christian teachers, — all these live through all ages —
Their speaking dust
Has more of life than half its breathing moulds.Bad men, as well as good, leave their mark behind them; and perpetuate their influence long after they are dead. Hundreds of years after Jeroboam's death, we find the people of Israel over whom he reigned walking in his footsteps, committing "the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made Israel to sin." The writings of Voltaire and Paine and Hume and Byron are a curse to humanity to this day. Thank God! the evil shall be stamped out; while the good shall bear fruit for ever. "The memory of the wicked shall rot; but the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance."
II. GOOD MEN LIVE AFTER DEATH IN THE RESULTS OF THEIR ACTIONS. Their conduct centuries, and even millenniums ago, tells on mankind to-day. Abraham's obedience to God's command; the legislation of Moses; Paul's acceptance of the Christian faith; Wickliffe's translation of the Bible into the English tongue; Luther's renunciation of popery; all these mark great epochs in the history of mankind, and are felt in the national life and social manners and religious progress of this nineteenth century of the Christian era. It would be easy to instance men of our own time, whose influence will reach on for good through all future generations. William Carey, John Williams, David Livingstone, Michael Faraday, Abraham Lincoln — these and others whom I might name — who shall attempt to calculate the blessings accruing from their character and work? Sometimes, those actions which seem to us the least noteworthy, are most fruitful, and live with mightiest power. The poor widow, when casting her two mites into the temple treasury, was wholly ignorant of the fact that Christ saw her, and would so signalise her self-sacrifice as to make it a pattern for universal imitation. So with ourselves, passages in our lives which awaken no interest in us at the time, or which, if of interest to ourselves, we may not for a moment think of identifying with others, may prove pregnant with great and lasting issues. Sometimes a man's name may be forgotten, yet his works remain. We know not who invented the plough, his name has perished; but the instrument remains one of the most useful inventions, and indispensable to civilisation. History has not preserved the names of the men who first crossed the sea to preach the Gospel to our forefathers here in Britain; but what wondrous results have followed their apostolic mission! Our own country has been raised thereby to the highest point of greatness, and sits queen among the nations; while from us the Gospel has sounded forth to the ends of the earth. We must die, and after a few years our names may be forgotten; but some action of our life, of which at the time no heed is taken, may become fruitful, even to the distant future, with richest good.
III. GOOD MEN LIVE AFTER DEATH, IN THEIR WRITINGS. A man embalms his thoughts and feelings, the best part of his nature, in his books. "Books," says John Milton, "contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are. A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose, to a life beyond life." There is such a quickening power in some books that the dullest and deadest minds that come into contact with them are quickened by their inspiration. The books of Moses, the Psalms of David, the proverbs of Solomon, the predictions of the Hebrew prophets, the four Gospels, the apostolic letters, the visions of John, are among the supreme powers that govern and guide the world. Confucius and Plato and Aristotle still sway their sceptre over human souls. Bacon and Shakespeare fashion men with plastic power. Who shall reckon and tabulate the results of s City of God, of Paleario's Benefit of Christ's Death, of the The Imitation of Christ Imitation of Christ, of Calvins Institutes, of Luthers Commentary on the Galatians, of Bunyans Pilgrim's Progress, of Baxters Saints' Rest? Who shall the influence measure of the hymns of Gerhardt and the Wesleys and Watts and Cowper and Doddridge? Dead souls have been born again through them; dark souls enlightened; weak souls made strong; sorrowful souls inspired with gladness and joy. Their
Distant voices echo
Through the corridors of time,
and make the Church of God resonant with praise. The influence of Christian writers is seen in an interesting light, in the way in which one book becomes the parent of another through successive generations. About the close of Queen Elizabeth's reign, a Puritan minister, called Edmund Bunny, met with a book written by a Jesuit priest, named Parsons; and, excluding the Popery, he recast the book and published it with a new title. A copy came into the hands of Richard Baxter, then a boy in Shropshire; and its earnest appeals led to his conversion. He grew to manhood, became a laborious preacher of the Gospel, and a voluminous writer. Among other books, he wrote the Call to the Unconverted, twenty thousand copies of which are said to have been sold in a single year. Twenty-five years after Baxter's death a copy of this book fell in the way of Philip Doddridge, a youth at St. Alban's, and brought him to God. He became a Christian minister and author, writing, in addition to other works, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, which has been translated into several languages, and made useful to many souls. Thirty-three years after the death of Doddridge, William Wilberforce was setting out on a journey to the South of France, and, at the suggestion of a friend, took a copy of this book to read on the journey. The perusal of it led to his consecration to Christ. He found time, amid all his political and philanthropic duties, to write his Practical View of Christianity, a work which has passed through more than one hundred editions, and which, among the upper classes of society especially, has been a powerful leaven of righteousness. When Legh Richmond was a young curate in the Isle of Wight, still ignorant of the Gospel, a college friend sent him a copy of Wilberforce's book. He began to read it, and could not leave off till he came to the end. The result he thus describes: "To the unsought and unexpected introduction of Mr. Wilberforce's book, I owe, through God's mercy, the first sacred impression which I ever received as to the spiritual nature of the Gospel system." Another copy of the same work taught Dr. Chalmers the way of salvation, and made him such a distinguished preacher of Christ's Gospel. Legh Richmond, as you know, afterwards wrote the touching story of The Dairyman's Daughter; and Dr. Chalmers preached and published some of the ablest and most effective sermons of the age. Who knows how this genealogy may lengthen as time goes on; and what other books may trace back their ancestry to the copy of Bunny's Resolution, lent to Richard Baxter's father.
IV. GOOD MEN LIVE AFTER DEATH, IN THEIR SPOKEN WORDS. In this way: a faithful preacher of the Gospel in a town or district will make a mark that remains for ages. Take such cases as Fletcher of Madeley, Jay of Bath, Hall of Bristol, Raffles of Liverpool, Parsons of York, M'Cheyne of Dundee. The places where these men lived and laboured must be impregnated with their speech of past years, as with salt. In the came manner, the words of men of greater note and influence live on a larger scale.
V. ONCE MORE, GOOD MEN LIVE AFTER DEATH, IN THE MEMORY AND EXPERIENCE OF SURVIVORS. "The immortal dead," says George Eliot, "live again in minds made better by their presence." We remember and copy their example. In our recollection of their excellences, we forget their faults, if faults they had.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.