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Jordan should be more efficacious in the leprosy, than those of any other river.
His servants have suggested the proper temper in such cases, which is submission to the authority of God. A prophet had bidden him wash in Jordan.
When a revelation is proposed to us, we are to examine its evidence; and with such evidence as appears rationally conclusive we are to rest satisfied. Whatever difficulties may arise from the imperfection of human reason, these should not be considered as invalidating positive proof. Settled in the full belief of revelation, we are to receive, as divine, every doctrine and precept which we find in it, and to govern our lives by them.
This leads us to another observation;
III. If we expect success in any great and good design, we must humbly follow the instructions of God. When Naaman washed in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God, his flesh came again, and he was clean.
God could have cleansed this leper by one washing as well as seven, or without sending him to Jordan at all. But he saw fit to make this prescription, and Naaman must obey.
He who made the earth, and placed us upon it, could command it to yield us a spontaneous supply. But then, What would be the use of those active powers, which he has given us? If we were supported, like trees and plants, merely by a mechanical nutrition, there would be a manifest incongruity in the works of God. Our powers would be unemployed; we should sink into thoughtless ingratitude: We should forget our benefactor and despise his benefits.
In common life, we see our dependance on God, and the importance of applying the powers which we possess. The case is the same in the religious life. By grace we are saved; and, by attendance on
means, we obtain this grace. You will ask, "Cannot God renew the hearts of sinners without their application of means?"-Grant that he can: Yet, since he has prescribed this, they are to expect his grace only in this way.
"But will God hear the prayers of the unconverted?" Why not? He has directed them to enquire of him, and he has not said to them, "Seek ye me in vain.” You will say, "There is no real holiness in their prayers; they are made only from natural principles." It is granted: But God hears the ravens when they cry. May he not hear the voice of nature in rational, as well as in animal creatures?
When Israel, in their affliction, sought God, and returned and enquired early after him, he, being full of compassion, suspended their destruction, and prolonged their space of repentance, though their heart was not right with him, and they were not stedfast in his covenant.
You will ask, What peculiar benefit can arise from attending on publick institutions? Why may we not read and meditate, with as much profit, in private? Do the latter, and leave not the former undone.
"But is God dependent on a particular set of means?" If he is not dependent, yet you are. And if, under pretence of exalting his free and sovereign grace, you neglect the instituted means of religion, you mock the grace which you profess to magnify.
IV. If, in a case of importance, we would use difficult and doubtful means, rather than abandon the object in view, much more should we apply cheap and easy means, when we have good hope of success.
Naaman's case was extremely unhappy. Afflicted with an increasing disease, for which no remedy
was known, he had nothing to expect but death.' What would he not give, to obtain a cure?
He had taken a journey to the land of Israel. He had brought with him ten changes of raiment, as many talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, as a present to the man, who should heal him. Almighty present; but not greater than he would give for his health. Besides this; had the prophet prescribed the most painful operations and expensive medicines, Naaman would have submitted to them, even without the positive assurance of a cure. How much more reasonable was it, that he should go and wash in Jordan, when he had a promise from the man of God, that his flesh should come again and he should be clean?
This argument his servants urged with great propriety, and it had its effect. To the case of sinners it may be applied with superior force.
Convinced of your guilty state, let this be your serious enquiry; What must we do to be saved?" Your salvation indeed comes from God. But it comes only in a way of repentance. Without this, it will be as absurd to expect the salvation of the gospel, as for Naaman to have hoped for a cure, while he refused the waters of Jordan. When so vast an object is depending, if God had bidden you to do some great thing, Would you not have done it? How much rather, when he says to you, Repent and be saved?"
Had a life of the most painful self denial been made the condition of your eternal happiness, reason would dictate a compliance with it. How much more ought you to comply with the terms, which are in fact proposed! These are all mild and gracious. They are attended with no arbitrary mortifications. The religion, which prepares you for heaven, contributes to your happiness here. It will relieve you from the vexation of irregular pasVOL. II.
sions, and the torments of conscious guilt. It will reclaim you from the way of transgressors, which is hard, and direct your feet in paths of pleasantness and peace. It will give order to your soul, and tranquillity to your conscience. It will open to you the most delightful prospect, and fill you with joyful hopes. It cannot, indeed, secure you from the outward troubles which result from a state of mortality; but it will yield you the firmest support, and the sweetest consolation under them.
If religion deprived you of all the blessings, and involved you in all the evils of the present world; yet, since it is necessary to the happiness of the next, it surely ought to be your choice: How much more when it unites the interests of both worlds?
Farther. Though God had only prescribed the means, and stated the terms of salvation, you ought, in a case of such mighty importance, to attend to them: How much more when a promise is annex. ed? If a patient, in dangerous sickness, should refuse all medicines, because their success was uncertain, we should conclude that his distemper had disturbed his reason. When life is depending, rather than submit to certain death we try precarious remedies.
The Ninevites, being warned of approching destruction, cried mightily unto God, and turned from their evil ways; "for," said they, "Who can tell, if God will turn from his fierce anger, that we perish not ?" Had you no more ground of hope than they, yet you ought, like them, to apply the means of preservation: How much more, when God has assured you, that whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy?
Naaman's hope was reasonable. It stood, however, on more precarious ground than yours.
He had heard of the prophet Elisha, and of great things which he had done. But his first information came from a Hebrew child in his family. If Elisha was endued with extraordinary powers, it appeared not, how far these powers extended. He never had been known, either by water, or any other means, to heal a leper, though there were, among his own countrymen, patients enough, on whom he might have tried his power. These circumstances naturally rendered doubtful the issue of the proposed expedient. His servants, however, judged it wise to make a trial; and they judged right.
Your hopes rest on firmer ground. You receive your directions from the sacred scriptures, which are proved, by the highest evidence, to be the word of God. The means prescribed in your case, you know, come from divine authority. In the use of them many have found success. You are not the first who have been advised to apply them. They have, in every age, been blessed to the salvation of thousands. You are not called to make a doubtful experiment: But to use an approved remedy. What think you ?-Did Naaman's servants reason well?-Say then, What can excuse your negligence, to whom their reasoning more strongly applies?
V. There is one thing more to be remarked in this story; namely, the benefits which Naaman received by his compliance with the good advice of his servants. These were restoration to health, and conversion to the truth. "Then he went and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God, and his flesh came again, as the flesh of a child."
Though he was a man of high spirits and hasty passion, there seems to have been a noble honesty in his disposition. He could take advice from his servants; and feel the force of an argument, even when it condemned himself.