I. -- WE HAVE A PICTURE OF AN UNREGENERATE HEART.
"The water is naught," said the men of the city. Does not that describe many a life? Naughty actions influence for evil; for wherever these waters flowed they carried desolation. The fields through which the river ran were useless to the farmer. Are there not some whom we know who might be thus described -- perhaps someone who reads these lines among the number? First the schoolboy, then the youth, and now the man, profitless and sour, so that all cultivation has been wasted. Is it so?
And, what makes the disappointment the greater, "the situation is pleasant." It is just the place where men like to build. Everything looks so promising. How true this of many in our midst! Have we not heard some father say, when his boy's beauty has been praised, "If he were only as good as he looks!" Is this so with those who are my audience? Is there this combination of beauty and bitterness -- men who are courageous but proud, women that are beautiful but vain, workmen that are industrious but covetous, others who are amiable but intemperate -- servant girls who are wonderfully clean and active but have a dreadful temper?
Now, it is well for us to learn that we shall no more cure ourselves than the land around Jericho could bring good crops so long as the water was bad. Education and other appliances are sure to fail. I dare say the people had tried one sort of cultivation after another, and had dressed the land with different appliances; but all had failed; there was no hope of success. Very likely some of you are disgusted that hitherto there has been no improvement. There are times when you have really longed to be better, but there has been nothing in yourself to give you hope. Now what shall be done? Are we to remain as we are? Or shall we, like the men of Jericho, seek help from One who delights to make the barren fruitful, and to make the wilderness glad? This brings me to consider: --
II. -- HOW TO CURE A SINFUL HEART; OR, A PICTURE OF TRUE CONVERSION.
The beginning of better days was when Elisha came to Jericho. The farmers did not lose a chance. They would not allow the prophet to leave them without having a proof of his skill. They told him their trouble, and this was all he needed. Doubtless he as a farmer's son saw the barren fields, and sympathised with them. And does not Jesus look at us with pity? Is he not waiting to save now? But he will not save where desire does not turn to prayer. If the men of Jericho had left the matter where it was they would still have had to suffer loss, but they stirred themselves to call on one who was mighty to deliver. Is not this the secret? Are not some of us profitless and barren because we are too indolent to pray?
But let us pause a moment to consider what a lesson there is here to the pulpit. Elisha said, "Bring me a new cruse." The dish did not cure the waters, but it had to be used, and therefore must be clean! God is pleased to use human beings as the instruments of conversion. As the prophet needed something to contain the healing salt, so preachers and teachers convey the saving truth. We have no description of the dish, as to its shape or colour; but being new, it was undefiled. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, and if we are to be useful, we had better be cracked, if clean, than entire, but vile.
Mark you, preacher, it is not enough that you are a cruse; you must be filled with that which heals. Have we salt? It is not a question as to the quality or style of pottery; it is salt that is needed. A common flower-pot filled with salt was better than a vase of classic mould if empty!
Elisha did not waste time by trying to heal the stream. "He went forth TO THE SPRING." What expense and trouble are thrown away by vain attempts to heal the water lower down! We shall never succeed in keeping the tongue from bitter words if the heart is left to itself. It is useless for men to think blue ribbon will save them from drink if they do not look to God to take the selfishness out of the heart. It is a wise prayer, "Cleanse Thou the thoughts of our heart by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit." Is it not strange that men do not see that an impure fountain cannot be cleansed by either altering the course of the stream or using remedies lower down?
III. -- And then we have THE RESULTS OF CONVERSION. "The waters were healed." Mark you, the prophet took care there should be no mistake as to the cause. It was neither he, nor the cruse, nor the salt: "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters." "It shall be to the Lord for a name." Let the crown be on the Head. So the waters were healed. What a change in a short time! But the results would not be seen all at once; it would take time to prove the realness of the change, yet each season would only prove the grand conversion that had happened. If we have received Christ into our hearts, the results will be shown; and there are no evidences of Christianity better than these true conversions, which change a man's life, and make it evident that he, like the fields around Jericho, has passed from death unto life. The other day, a Lancashire coal-miner was killed in the pit; only a minute before he was killed he was overheard praising God. He had been a sad drunkard; his home was wretchedness itself. Money was in his hands only helpful to hellish enjoyment. But the grace of God changed his heart and life. His home and family were soon made happy. He became a preacher, went about from village to village testifying of God's saving grace. In one place he said: "When I was here last, I won 20 pounds by jumping, but my wife and children were no better for it; the publican got it all, and I was locked up into the bargain." He was buried with every sign of respect; hundreds followed him to the grave, and everyone felt that the world was the poorer now that he was gone. These are the evidences we want; these proofs of the truth of the Bible close the mouth of the infidel and scorner. If you would help on the cause of Christianity, love the truth, and make the fields, once barren, bloom with beauty; so shall the name of the Lord be magnified. Shall we not all join in Charles Wesley's prayer? --
Jesus, Thy salvation bring,