Then Elisha prayed, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw that the hills were full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
I. EYES CLOSED.
1. The young man's eyes were closed. Me did not see the horses and chariots of fire that were round about Elisha. He did not realize that deliverance was at hand. How many like him are blind to the power of God, to the providences of God! How many are quick to see anything that concerns their temporal advantage, but slow to see that which concerns their immortal souls! How many see no beauty in Christ!
2. The Syrians eyes were closed. This was a judicial act of God in response to Elisha's prayer. So there is a spiritual judicial blindness. "Seeing they shall see, but not perceive; hearing they shall hear, but shall not understand." It is a spiritual law which has its analogies in the natural world. If we neglect to use any of our bodily powers, the power itself is soon lost. Similarly, mental or spiritual powers, if neglected, will soon become useless. Let us be careful that we use the privileges and opportunities and talents which God has given us, lest they be taken from us altogether. "To him that hath shall be given," that is, to him that hath made a good use of his talents; "and from him that hath not" - from him that has so neglected his talents that they are practically not hiss shall be taken away even that which he hath,
II. EYES OPENED.
1. The Syrians eyes were opened to see their true condition. Instead of being a victorious army, with Elisha a captive in their hands, they find that he has them in his power, and has led them into the midst of Samaria and into the presence of the King of Israel. They then saw how defenseless and how helpless they were. That is the first step in the path of salvation. The first step for a sinner is to see his need. So with Bunyan's pilgrim. The first thought that led him to set out on his journey was the feeling of his utter helplessness. "Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment (Hebrews 9:27); and I find that I am not willing to do the first (Job 16:21), nor able to do the second (Ezekiel 22:14)." "Lord, show me myself."
2. The young man's eyes were opened to see that deliverance was at hand. "The Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." This is the second step in the sinner's salvation. Having seen his need, he next needs to see the Savior. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world? Have you seen your true condition, your spiritual need? Have you seen your need of Jesus as your Savior?
"When free grace awoke me, by light from on high, "My terrors all vanished before the sweet Name; III. THE POWER OF PRAYER. Elisha's prayers prevailed three times in this short narrative. There may be some one known to us whose eyes are closed, who is spiritually blind. Have we brought the case to God in prayer? Is it a wandering son? "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." Is it a wayward daughter? a godless friend? We may not reach them by our words; but we can reach them by our prayers. IV. THE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE. Elisha did not exult in his triumph over his enemies. He did not take advantage of their helplessness. They had come to take him captive, perhaps to take away his life; but he heaps coals of fire on their head. The King of Israel wanted to smite them. But Elisha reminds him (according to one view) that it was not customary to smite even captives taken in war: how much less should he smite those who had been put within his power, not by any exertions of his own, but by the miraculous interposition of God! On the contrary, Elisha recommends that they should be well treated and well fed. This was done. And what was the consequence? "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." This little act of kindness had turned away their wrath. What an example for us to imitate toward those who treat us ill! "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." - C.H.I.
"My terrors all vanished before the sweet Name; III. THE POWER OF PRAYER. Elisha's prayers prevailed three times in this short narrative. There may be some one known to us whose eyes are closed, who is spiritually blind. Have we brought the case to God in prayer? Is it a wandering son? "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." Is it a wayward daughter? a godless friend? We may not reach them by our words; but we can reach them by our prayers. IV. THE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE. Elisha did not exult in his triumph over his enemies. He did not take advantage of their helplessness. They had come to take him captive, perhaps to take away his life; but he heaps coals of fire on their head. The King of Israel wanted to smite them. But Elisha reminds him (according to one view) that it was not customary to smite even captives taken in war: how much less should he smite those who had been put within his power, not by any exertions of his own, but by the miraculous interposition of God! On the contrary, Elisha recommends that they should be well treated and well fed. This was done. And what was the consequence? "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." This little act of kindness had turned away their wrath. What an example for us to imitate toward those who treat us ill! "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." - C.H.I.
III. THE POWER OF PRAYER. Elisha's prayers prevailed three times in this short narrative. There may be some one known to us whose eyes are closed, who is spiritually blind. Have we brought the case to God in prayer? Is it a wandering son? "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see." Is it a wayward daughter? a godless friend? We may not reach them by our words; but we can reach them by our prayers.
IV. THE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE. Elisha did not exult in his triumph over his enemies. He did not take advantage of their helplessness. They had come to take him captive, perhaps to take away his life; but he heaps coals of fire on their head. The King of Israel wanted to smite them. But Elisha reminds him (according to one view) that it was not customary to smite even captives taken in war: how much less should he smite those who had been put within his power, not by any exertions of his own, but by the miraculous interposition of God! On the contrary, Elisha recommends that they should be well treated and well fed. This was done. And what was the consequence? "So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel." This little act of kindness had turned away their wrath. What an example for us to imitate toward those who treat us ill! "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." - C.H.I.
1. Here we see, as if through a microscope, the act or process of faith in the human soul. What is faith? "It is," says the apostle, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;" that is to say, it is the faculty which reaches to that which is beyond the senses, yet which apprehends it as certain — as being at least as certain as the things which we see. Faith, then, is not an act of the natural imagination. Imagination deals with that which is not; faith with that which is; imagination with a fiction; faith with fact. The objects of faith and the objects of imagination may have this, if you will, in common, that they are both beyond the reach of the natural sight. But, then, there is this difference, that the objects of faith, being, as they are, real, may become visible to a higher sense than the bodily eye; while the objects of imagination can never be visible to the soul; being fictions, however beautiful, they occur to the soul always as such — as fictions, it may be, of its own creation, not as realities. When men speak of faith as a vivid and energetic form of imagination, they mean to imply this, without stating in terms that they do so: they mean to imply that just as the poet Virgil projected a picture of the nether world out of the immense wealth of his fancy, so evangelists and apostles hare traced their own beautiful pictures of heaven, and their awful descriptions of hell and of judgment, on the pages of our Testaments, by the aid of an extraordinary variety of the religious imagination. The evangelists and apostles, whatever else they were — I say it with reverence — were not poets, they were eminently prosaic; and the remark of Rousseau that the inventor of the Gospel history must have been not less wonderful than its hero, if he were entirely unassisted from above, is at least a satisfactory reply to this theory of faith doing the work of pure imagination. Why, the apostles say with St. Peter, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables;" the apostles exclaim with St. John, "That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you"; and among ordinary Christians is it not a matter of daily experience that the most earnest, the most practical believers are constantly persons who are exceptionally wanting in the faculty of imagination, and who look at all the concerns of life in a matter-of-fact way which forbids the idea of their ever, under any circumstances, giving reins to fancy? In the case before us, Elisha's servant did not create, by an act of imagination, a splendid picture in the air, after the manner of a Milton or a Rubens, a picture of fiery beings circling round the form of his beloved, of his imperilled master. The thing was psychologically impossible. He had his eye upon the hard and menacing fact before him, upon the lines of the Syrian troops who were sent to capture the prophet his master. He could, for the time, see nothing beyond the sphere of sense. But the world of spirits was a thing utterly independent of his imagination. It would have been none the less there if he had never seen it; just as the Syrian troops would have been none the less there if Elisha's servant had been born blind, and had never seen them. His new power of seeing the chariots and horses of fire sweeping around Elisha did not create these spiritual forms and beings; there they were, whether he and other men saw them or not. The man's new sight could not create, as his blindness could not have destroyed, the supernatural reality. Yes, but I hear it whispered, there is a common sense based on our ordinary experience, which resists these notions of aa invisible world, actually around and about us. But what is the real worth of this so-termed common sense? When the comet of October 1858 appeared, a lecturer made a tour of some country villages in Devonshire, with a view of telling the country people some facts about the beautiful object which, night by night, attracted so much of their attention; and among other points he touched upon the calculations which astronomers had made as to the enormous length of the tail of the comet. I recollect hearing a countryman, who treated this part of his lecture with contemptuous incredulity: "I saw the comet myself," said the man to a sympathising crowd of villagers, "I saw the comet myself, and its tail was just four feet long; and how are we to believe this man who comes down hero to tell us that it is ever so many millions of miles?" Now, that was the common sense of ordinary sight, pitted against the common sense of the higher insight into nature which is won by scientific investigation. The astronomer, with Lord Russell's telescope at his disposal, sees, he does not imagine, the heavenly bodies utterly out of the reach of your ordinary sight or mine; and the servant of Elisha, when the eyes of his spirit are opened, sees — it is by the aid of a new spiritual faculty — sees what he would not, what he could not, have imagined, sees the world of spirits floating in all its power and its beauty round his endangered master. Nor is faith only the conclusion, the final act, of a process of natural reasoning. If this were the case, if faith were merely the conclusion of a syllogism, it would necessarily follow that all people with good understandings must necessarily be believers in Christianity. We know that many persons of great natural abilities, such as was Voltaire, are and have been unbelievers; and this alone would seem to show that something besides intelligence is implied in an act of faith. No man whose mind was not impaired could go through a proposition of Euclid and refuse to assent to a conclusion; but many people do read Paley's Evidences, or, what is more to the purpose, what St. Paul himself says about the resurrection, and yet do not admit Paley's and St. Paul's conclusion that Christianity comes from God. If believing in Christianity were simply an affair of the natural understanding, this could not be. It would be just as inevitable to believe St. Paul as it is intellectually to believe Euclid. Why is it so? Why is acceptance of religious truth not just as imperative upon the human understanding as the acceptance of mathematical truth? Because the act of faith is not merely an act of the intelligence; because it is an act of the whole inward nature, an act of the affections and the will, as well as an act of the understanding. "With the heart," says St. Paul, "man believeth into righteousness." The affections and the will have a great deal to say to every pure act of faith. The understanding cannot compel faith. If faith were merely an assent of the understanding to a conclusion warranted by sufficient evidence, it is plain that St. Paul could never speak of it as he does when writing to the Romans and the Galatians. He tells them that it is that which justifies before God. Why, goodness of understanding could be no more reason for our acceptance with God than strong limbs or retentiveness of memory. Faith is thus spoken of in the New Testament because it is a test of the moral nature, because a man believes upon evidence, although not absolutely compulsory evidence, in obedience to the promptings of his heart and will. What is it which makes the desire, the heart, on the one side, and the evidence at the disposal of the understanding on the other side, result in the complex, in the perfect act of faith? What is it which strikes the sacred spark which thus combines the action of the understanding and the yearnings of the heart into the single act which supersedes while it combines them . The Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." Faith is, in the last resort, the fire which is lighted up in the soul by a ray from Heaven, by a ray of grace. It is a gift from God. It is a fresh gift, which nature can neither rival nor anticipate. Elisha might have insisted upon many considerations which ought, in reason, to have satisfied his servant that God and His holy ones were now, as of old, near at hand, that the near presence of the Syrians did not amount to a real reason for despair. Had not God helped the patriarch Jacob? Had He not delivered Israel in the wilderness, and David from the wild beast, and Elijah quite recently from the power of Ahab and of Jezebel? Was it to be supposed that He would desert His prophet now, or that, happen what might, He was unconcerned or powerless? Elisha did not argue. There are times when argument is most precious; there are times when it is worse than useless. Elisha prayed. Now this exactly agrees with what we are taught about faith in the New Testament. Faith is there represented as a new spiritual sense, as an endowment or gift bestowed upon the soul by the Holy Ghost. It is contrasted with natural sight. "We walk by faith, and not by sight," says St. Paul. It is contrasted with natural reason. "The natural man," says St. Paul, "receiveth" not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. It is a higher reason than the reason which nature gives; it is a higher and more perfect sight, which God gives over and above the sight of nature, which nature cannot, if she would, achieve. "Faith," says St. Paul again, "is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Do not misunderstand me. Do I say that natural reason has no office whatever to discharge in the work of establishing our religious convictions? No. If this were so, not merely the evidential theology of the Church, but much of the language of the Bible itself, which unmistakably appeals to reason, would be a vast mistake. Reason can do very much for faith. Reason stands to faith just as did the Baptist to Christ our Lord. She is the messenger which goes before the face of faith to make ready its path within the soul. Reason can explain, she can infer, she can combine, she can reduce difficulties to their true proportions, she can make the most of considerations which show what, upon the whole, is to be expected; but here she must stop. She cannot do the work of God's grace; she cannot change, she cannot transfigure the moral nature so as to enable it to correspond to the conclusions" of the illuminated intellect; she cannot open the eyes of the young man and make him see.
Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.
1. That that which gives to men master-hood and confidence is the power to see. What is it that makes the difference between the great man and the small man — between the thinker and the clown — between the hero and the coward — between the saint and the sinner — between the Pauls and the Neros? You may say that there are a hundred things which go to make up this difference. But analyse them and you will find them to centre mainly in one. The greatest and wisest and purest men are in some sort prophets — or seers, as they used to be called; men who see further, see deeper, see more than other men. Your poet is not a mere manipulator of words, a jangler together of rhymes. He is one who sees flashes of resemblance, brilliant analogies, angelic and heroic thoughts, where ordinary men see nothing but what is common and uninteresting. Your artist is one who can see more in a tame Dutch landscape than others can see in an Italian sunset or in the snowy Alps. Your sculptor can see more in a rugged, unwashed gipsy than the common eye can see in a white-robed angel. Sometimes we look upon these men as creators. But they create nothing; all is created for them. What they do is simply to see that which they find. "George Eliot" used to weave her wonderful romances out of the common facts of common homes and common lives. She seemed to linger by loving preference among that which was common; yet she found miracles and marvels and thrilling episodes from every page. She did not create them, she found them. They were there all the time; all that was wanted was the open eye, the power to see. AI! the great leaders and thinkers at whose feet we have sat for instruction, or by whose words and works we have been charmed and soothed and inspired, have "been simply men and women who have looked at things with larger eyes than others. They have been the world's masters because they have seen more than the servants have seen. Christ saw what blind eyes could not see, and He was therefore calm and joyful, even in the presence of agony and death. To others there were only the cross, the jeers, the wails, the fierce cries of a drivelling multitude. To Him there was a great world beyond. He could recognise a moral power knitting together the hearts alike of men and of nations. Some tell me that a man's life is rich in proportion to his material possessions. No fallacy was ever more misleading; a man is rich only in proportion as he has power to see. One man will find more pleasure in a flower which he is too poor to buy than another will find in some earthly paradise which is all his own. A book which cost fifty cents is a richer treasure to some than is a mission which costs ten thousand dollars a year to others. A chapter in the Gospel is a richer field of gold to many a humble soul than is a lordly estate to a wearied voluptuary whose vision is bleared by excess and debauchery. It is not,, How many friends have you? but, How much can you see in each friend? It is not, How far have you travelled? but, How much can you see without travelling? One man may find more in his own house than another can find in a tour round the world. Paul was a far richer and happier man than Caesar, though Caesar owned the world and Paul owned nothing, simply because he saw more. He saw an infinite soul in every man that he met; he saw the world of possibilities in every child; he saw eternity stamped on all the changes of time; he saw God's good purposes writing golden lines under every page of sorrow and of sin; he saw heaven's rich colours transfiguring every earthly scene, and his life was filled to overflowing. "As sorrowing, yet always rejoicing; as having nothing, yet possessing all things." It is such men as the Apostles who are the master spirits, the brave, joyful spirits of the world. It is not those who have much, it is those who see much, and who make us cry, whenever we come into their society. "Lord, open Thou our eyes, that we also may see." Now, from all this, it follows that our daily prayer for ourselves, and for others, is the prayer for the power to see.
2. But in order that we may offer this prayer aright we must be conscious of our need. No man will be passionate in his cry for help who does not realise his own helplessness. Nothing is more common than for men to imagine that that which they do not see does not exist. It is said that a dog writhes in agony under the most exquisite music; the more elevating the music the more the dog writhes. But who thinks any the worse of the music on that account? The most you can do is to pity the dog. When the vibrations of a musical chord attain a certain rapidity the music is no longer heard, by ordinary ears. It is too high, too refined; m a sense, too spiritual. It is only the keen ear of a practised musician that can catch it then. The same law runs through all life, and it should be a warning against our too ready criticism, and should check our faulty and uncharitable judgments. There are numbers of men who think that it is an easy thing to fathom a human soul and take in the sum of its mysteries. But you might as well attempt to measure God's heavens with an opera-glass. The men and women who are to us as closed doors, with dark and empty chambers behind, are full of the choicest treasures to those who have found the secret key. They are like closed instruments to us, which yield no music to our touch because our hands lack the cunning which is required to play on them. But as soon as our kinship with them shows us what chords we are to touch, and how to touch them, their whole nature will break out in symphonies, and they will become to us an unmeasured source of delight and joy. Christ said, "The prince of this world cometh and findeth nothing in Me." Fancy that! The prince of the world looks into the royal and Divine soul — or thinks lie looks — and declares that he finds nothing. The very fulness of God, the overflowing fountain of eternal love and delight, is to the prince of the world only emptiness, darkness, and silence. A man may be clever at analysing light and distilling clouds, and yet have none of the artist's discernment. He may be clever with chisel, and saw, and hammer, and scalpel, yet when he has to deal with a magnetic current, or an electric spark, he may be as helpless as a child. These subtleties escape him because neither his instincts nor his discernments are sufficiently fine. And in the same way there are clever dogmatists who think that they know all about the things of God, who laugh at those who profess to see more than they see, but who themselves never touch the very fringe of the subject of Divine things. They have eyes but they see not, and none more than they need to pray, "Lord, open Thou our eyes that we also may see." The psalmist's prayer was, "Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law." To the common eye this book is a book of letters and syllables, of sentences and paragraphs, of verses and chapters. But to the eye of the thoughtful and enlightened Christian, the man with spiritual insight, every chapter sparkles with beauty, and pulsates with life. Some time ago I met with a picture representing two women in great sorrow. Standing behind the chairs on which they were sitting there appeared the figure of Christ stretching out His hands over them. They could not see Him, because their eyes were dim, but He was none the less present with them. He was near in all His effulgent brightness, with all His sympathetic consolation, and with all His helpful power. At the foot of the picture this verse was written:
Unheard, because our ears are dull,
Unseen, because our eyes are dim,
He walks on earth, the Wonderful,
And all great deeds are done for Him.What we need then, brethren, is the power to see — to see the chariots and horses on the mountains; to see God all about us; to see the strong right arm of the Almighty stretched out to help us; to see that the darkest clouds and most threatening surroundings are under the all-controlling power of the Everlasting Father. And, seeing this, we shall have the prophet's hope, and the prophet's faith, and the prophet's trust that they who are with us are more than they who are against us. The prayer, then, that befits our lips day and night continually is, "Lord, we pray Thee, open our eyes, that we may see."
2. Let us see in this history a remedy against despondency, such as good Christians often feel on contemplating the state of the world at particular periods. All seems to be going against the cause of right, of truth, of God.
3. "The enemy crieth so, and the ungodly cometh on so fast, that they are minded to do me some mischief, so maliciously are they set against me." The Psalmist's cry is echoed by the Church, kneeling at the foot of the throne of Christ. It is echoed throughout the centuries. Intellectual assailants, political adversaries, all the passions, all the prejudices, all t e misapprehensions of an unregenerate humanity, come down and besiege the prophet in Dothan. All might seem to be lost again and again if it were not that, again and again, the eyes of the spirit are opened to perceive that they which are with us are more than they which are with them. Courage; the unseen is greater than the seen, the eternal will surely outlive the things of time. An act of faith may cross the threshold of the door which separates us from that world which is beyond the senses, and may at once correct the apparent preponderance of evil by a vision of the throne, and the resources of the All-good. And see, too, in this history our true pattern of nobility. It has been a common saying, quoted again and again of late, to explain and justify changes on the Continent that have taken place within the last ten years, that it is better to be the citizens of a great state than the citizens of a small one. Brethren, it is better for many reasons, for this among the rest: there is an inspiration for good which comes from the sense of wide and noble fellowship, of high and distinguished associates and guardians, which is denied to those who are members of a small society that have it not. And, in His kingdom, God has provided us with this. It embraces both worlds, the unseen world as well as the visible. "Ye are come," says the apostle, writing to Christian converts, "ye are come by your conversion unto Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect." The Church thus is a world-embracing society, consisting here of the faithful, there of the blessed angels and of the spirits of the dead, united in the bonds of one indissoluble communion, and all ranged beneath the throne .of thrones, the throne of God, the throne of Jesus. Does this lofty conviction, think you, inspire nothing like hatred of sin, no longing for a higher life, no wish to live as should the companions of beings who constitute the household of God, and who are our predestined fellow-citizens? The Syrian host may press us hard; the host of temptations, and bad thoughts, and bad acquaintances; of haunting memories; but when, at the voice of prayer, the prayer of the Church or our own, our eyes open upon the realities around and above us, we must remember that we have a destiny before us, and means at hand to prepare for it.
3. Lastly, we see here the secret of real, effective prayer. Why is prayer, public prayer especially, in so many cases nothing better than the coldest of cold, heartless forms? For two reasons especially. Men enter on it without having any true knowledge of themselves whatever, of their sins and wants, as well as of their hopes and fears, of their real state before God, as well as of their reputed .character in the eyes of men: in a word, they have no true knowledge of that for which prayer wins something like a remedy, and thus they have no personal interest of their own which they can import into, and identify with, the public language of the Church. They do not, for instance, know enough about themselves to say, with anything like sincerity before God, that they have erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep, or that there are certain things which for their unworthiness they dare not and for their blindness they cannot ask. This is the first reason. But there is a second. Prayer is so cold and heartless a thing in numbers of instances because men see nothing of Him to whom prayer is addressed, nothing of God, nothing of Jesus, nothing of the spirit-world around the throne, nothing of the majesty, the beauty, the glory which encircles God, such as is possible, really possible to our finite and purblind gaze, — nothing of the everlasting worship which surrounds Him, nothing of the ministers of His that do His pleasures.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(R. Venting.)I. GOD IS THE UNSEEN BUT CONSTANT FACTOR IN THE LIVES OF MEN AND WOMEN. The King of Syria made his plans and tried to carry them out with his best cunning, but they all went awry because he was fighting against God. He did not take God into account. God is the most important factor in our lives, and there is absolutely no certainty of our success unless God is working in harmony with us. As Joseph Parker says, commenting on this case, it is the Unknown Quantity that troubles men, and gives them to feel that after they have completed their arithmetic their conclusion is a lie.
II. THE SPIRIT-WORLD IS NEAR TO US. It is not a dumb, dead world, all day and iron and gold, with no voice or hearing. It is not a thin empty world, all air and space. No, indeed: our Heavenly Father has many children, a universe peopled with them, the creatures of His love, just as we are. The ingenuity of heaven was not exhausted when God made the human body; He has millions of angels clothed upon with spiritual forms; bodies that we may not see with our earthly eye, but bodies none the less real and infinitely more enduring than those we do see. The Bible is a book of angels.
III. THE ARMY OF GOD CAMPS BETWEEN THE TRUSTING SOUL AND HIS ENEMIES. The military of heaven greatly exceeded that of the Syrians. I have seen a man who had been rescued from terrible sins and cruel appetites beset by a legion of devilish lusts and temptations that clamoured for his soul, and I have wondered if he would be able to beat them down and go on his way with steady step towards heaven. And I have rejoiced as I have watched and witnessed that, despite all the howling and barking of the wolves of temptation, the man grew stronger, his face firmer, his eyes shone with a loftier courage, and his brow was glorified with higher ideals. Then I knew that the secret of it was that between him and the .howling pack of devilish temptations were encamped the hosts of God's angels.
IV. THROUGH PRAYER WE MAY PASS FROM THE LIFE OF SIGHT INTO THE LIFE OF FAITH.
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)I. THE SYRIAN ARMY SURROUNDING ELISHA, A SYMBOL OF THE FORCES THAT HAVE EVER BEEN ARRAYED AGAINST THE TRUTH. The attack upon Elisha and his servant was very unfair, and the forces apparently very unequal — an armed host against two unarmed men! Let us notice —
1. That the foes were many — "a great host." It seemed out of all proportion, and altogether absurd; and the escape of the prophet and his servant seemed hopeless.
2. The foes were mighty — armed men with horses and chariots, presenting a very formidable and imposing appearance, and threatening to sweep all before them.
3. The foes were malignant, they had crept up stealthily under the cover of the night, and they intended to pounce upon the man of God, and arrest him with violence. They had been told that the prophet had been the cause of all their defeats, so they would feel very spiteful and vindictive, and would be anxious to capture the man they regarded as their greatest enemy. Here we have a symbol of the forces that have ever been arrayed against the truth.
II. THE PROPHET ELISHA IN THE MIDST OF THE SYRIAN ARMY A TYPE OF EVERY TRUE DEFENDER OF THE TRUTH. Elisha was unarmed with carnal weapons; and he had not gone to Dothan to destroy men's lives, but to save them. He was not an enemy, but a friend to the true progress and best interests of men; and in his gentleness and harmlessness he is a model of every true, godly, and christly man.
1. Elisha was on the alert. He had not gone to Dothan to spend his time in idleness, for, early in the morning, he and his servant were on the move to prosecute their work and fulfil their mission.
2. Elisha was calm in the face of danger. His servant was greatly alarmed when he saw the armed host, and said, "Alas I my master, how shall we do?" But Elisha was calm, and said, "Fear not." He did not make flesh his arm, nor trust for deliverance upon what he could see with the eye of sense. He admitted human weakness, but he apprehended Divine strength. He put his trust in God, and so his mind was kept in perfect peace.
3. Elisha found refuge in prayer. Cod had already shown him that he had a great host on his side; and now he wishes that his servant may see the army too.
III. THE HORSES AND CHARIOTS OF FIRE UPON THE MOUNTAIN, AN EMBLEM OF THE FORCES THAT ARE EVER BATTLING ON THE SIDE OF TRUTH.
1. They were invisible to mortal eyes. The prophet Elisha had the spiritual vision to discern them; but the servant could not see them till his spiritual vision was uncovered. The horses and chariots of fire, formidable and real as they were, were not palpable to human sight.
2. They were innumerable. The mountain was full of them. Elisha was completely surrounded by celestial warriors; the army from the sky was mustered and marshalled as if on the eve of a terrible battle.
3. They were invincible. Taking up their position in the mountains suggests the idea that they would be immovable and impregnable; and they seemed to be "of fire," and fire, we know, suggests the ideas of aggression and irresistibility. The horses and chariots of Syria in the valley would be as nothing compared with this great host of fire upon the mountains.
(F. W. Brown.)
Homilist.Sight is a wonderful thing by it we are connected and associated with the things that are around us. A man who has never seen is only self-contained and knows nothing of the wealth of glories which are within his reach. It is well to think sometimes of what our loss would be if our world were circumscribed by the orbit of our own darkened bodies. Vision is one of the most wonderful and blessed of all God's gifts.
I. THE SCOPE OF HUMAN PENETRATION IS LIMITED. This is an indisputable fact.
1. Even with our wonderful organs of vision there are many material things which we cannot perceive. Think of animal life. How infinitely small some of its existences! They are too small for our perception. A pint measure may contain as many living creatures as the world contains inhabitants. The microscope has of late years taught us that, around us on every side are existences so small and numerous that we can scarcely conceive of their multitude. But beyond the range of our most powerful microscope there lie still unexplained worlds of life. Think of the particles of inanimate matter. A ray of sunshine in a darkened room will reveal the existence of thousands of particles which we cannot ordinarily observe, and opens a wondrous field of imagination as to what may be beyond.
2. Besides material objects there are immaterial things which the age cannot perceive -electricity, sound, heat; smell cannot be practically seen.
3. Beyond all this there is the spiritual world. That this is close around us we .know. God is everywhere. Satan is everywhere. There are for aught we know millions of angelic beings and even of human spirits within our call, but they cannot be seen.
II. THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GOD'S PEOPLE AND THE WORLD ARE OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD. We cannot take a more striking example than that of our Lord Himself. Here was apparently a poor simple countryman, poor and despised, passing about from one place to another, attended by a few followers, still poorer and more neglected than Himself. And yet the whole resources of the universe were at this Man's fingers'-ends. At a word all creation would have asserted His position and would have avenged His cause. Ten legions of angels attended His course, and He had only to speak for inanimate things to obey. And as with Christ so with His people both before and since His earthly appearance. A few practical thoughts will urge this subject on our consideration.
1. Faith is not a matter of ideality or imagination. It is a realisation of actual facts. It is not supposing that we may be saved or that God will help, but it is grasping the fact that God has saved and that He truly helps. It is the evidence of things unseen.
2. How foolish is despondency or despair on the part of God s people. There is no circumstance so dark and no condition so extreme as to be without Divine help. God's resources are always near, far more powerful and far more numerous than those of any adversaries.
3. God does not parade His power. It is unseen both by foes and friends, but is always ready for immediate exercise.
(Homilist.)AEolian harp vibrate in sweetest notes to the zephyr that breathes across it on our window-sill. We believe in the roar of the wind and in the notes of the harp because we hear them. But the same laws which produce these sounds make music a necessity of every falling drop of rain or floating flake of snow. Even the very rays of sun and moon and star must sing as they slant their way through their air to our eyes. Shall we believe in the laws of sound which hold perfectly through each step up to the point of our limit in power to hear, and then deny the holding of that same law beyond the reach to our ears? Surely not. We follow the law with our belief and our imagination clear out into the realm of the inaudible, and there revel in music unearthly. We are not wont to hold the Bible to the accuracies of physical science in its moral teachings; but the Psalmist was stating scientific truth, as facts now appear, when he wrote, "Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to sing" — "to rejoice," our translators rendered it, instead of to sing, as the word means, only because they were ignorant then of what we now know, that the myriad rays of the rising and setting sun must all start and pursue their swift way, each singing its own sweet song, without an instant's interruption. The howl of the tempest we believe in, and the hum of the gnat's tiny wing. Shall we compel the law that produces those sounds to stand suspended just where we can hear no farther? No. If we can hear the hum of the tiniest gnat we ever saw, we easily believe there may be a hum too refined for our ears to catch. A ray of light cannot enter your room for your waking in the morning without singing its good morning, nor depart at night save with leaving on the air its delicate nocturne. Science demonstrates this, and, though our ears are too coarse to bear witness to the facts, we believe. No wonder the Bible tells how "the morning stars sang together." That is not poetic fancy, by license. It is scientific fact. So, too, we all believe in gravity, though invisible. Electricity, also, how firmly we believe in that and in its yet unrevealed wonders, though it is too subtle for the human eye to detect, for we must bear in mind that no human eye has ever seen electricity! We see the flash it makes, in motion, but never the electricity itself. I know of nothing in physical nature that so illustrates the reality of the invisible as does electricity. It is physical, and yet eludes us like a very spirit. It seems to be the finest possible attenuation of the physical verging off into the spiritual. But we believe in the fact of electricity as firmly as we believe in the fact of wood and stone. I hope you do not weary of these illustrations, much less lose the point of our text, or suspect the speaker of having lost it. "They that be with us are more than they that be with them." In the light of our illustrations this text begins to say: They who believe in and rely upon invisible realities have more with them than they who only believe in what they can touch and taste, and hear, and see. The mathematician who demonstrates and imagines and believes in an absolutely perfect circle has something better to go upon than the child stopping content with its imperfect line of chalk. The musician who accepts the laws of Nature and imagines and believes in the unheard music of the outer air, the unspeakable melodies of the rising and setting sun and the ever-glowing stars, has infinitely more with him than has he who only believes in the sounds he can make or hear, even as the deaf pianist I once heard, who went wild with ecstasy as his fingers flew over the keyboard, though he heard not a sound. All of which helps us to say, with cumulative power, that the man who believes with all his powers in a realm of spirits out of sight, and in the human spirit and its everlastingness, has vastly more with him than he who believes only in this body of decay and dust, holding nothing certain beyond its burial in the grave, and talking ever with uncertainty of the spirit world and his dear ones gone from him. The man who believes, as the main point of living only, in his possibilities of present pleasures of eating, drinking, family delights, and all indulgences that money can purchase, yea, even in the pleasures of thought upon present things — he, I say, has far fewer with him than has he who, enjoying all these in their place, lives mainly in the unseen, in his soul-life, and believes in the everlasting family of the everlasting Father, in the ever-developing and increasing power of the soul to enjoy, in the human passions and pleasures, ever purifying until his humanity shall affiliate with divinity, the finite with the infinite, enjoying it for ever. This is the instance of the reality of the invisible which I have been trying to illustrate. That army with horse and chariot and spear was instantly conquered by this invisible host, though not a visible blow was struck. Spiritual power ruled the physical forces, and they were led captive like weak children. They were inwardly possessed and spiritually disarmed. That angelic host, the spiritual energy of Jehovah, was the reality; the army with banners was but the shadow of real power. Now, the Bible is full of this kind of thing. It is God's effort to impress upon this world the facts of the invisible. These are what I would have you accept as realities. God, we are told and believe, reigns not only among the inhabitants of earth, but among the armies of heaven. He is not dependent upon this world alone as His recruiting ground. When His people here are dangerously beleaguered, when His causes are in peril by reason of physical forces that cannot, be matched by other forces that are physical also, then He calls upon the spiritual armies to come to the rescue.
(J. H. Taylor, D. D.)
1. God is ever active, and has an intense sympathy with what is good and true. Between this and atheism, there is no middle ground, for the distrustful man of this day will not fall into the Epicurean's belief, that God is indifferent to human things, and indisposed to interfere; or into the Manichean belief, that there is an equal contest waging between light and darkness. Such being the case, we say that God must have a plan, and that the plan may consist partly in leaving the subordinate combatants on the sides of good and evil to themselves, without Divine interference in favour of what God must love. It is as if the general of an army, whose troops were raw and needed to be inured by long discipline to military hardships and military skill, suffered them to undergo partial defeats until they were ripe for some great movements of decisive battle. Must such a general, of necessity, be hard-hearted, or devoid of love to his country and his cause? So God may suffer the conflicts of this world to go on in order to fasten the hearts of His loyal people to Himself. The power of Divine help may be nigh and ready, if an act of trust be put forth.
2. But we pass on to consider the attitude which unbelief takes in regard to spiritual power and presence. There is a more radical and deadly form of doubt than distrust. Distrust believes and disbelieves at once, or passes to and fro in its various moods of courage and apprehension, from one state of mind to its opposite, but there is an unbelief which is fixed and unbroken by any fits of belief, which recognises no spiritual agency or none affecting the conduct. Distrust catches a glimpse now and then of the horses and chariots of fire, and again loses the sight, as we lose the sight of a star or distant mountain on the horizon; but unbelief sees and hears nothing except the sights and sounds of this material world. Unbelief must in fact admit, while it denies, the existence of some kind of spiritual world. The unbeliever, though he may be a materialist and a sensualist, recognises those immaterial forces which we call the human soul.
3. In this invisible spiritual world, even if we confine it to mankind, great and most remarkable events are going forward, which the unbelieving man is too blind to perceive, or to which he fails to give their true value. Let us look at some of these events or classes of events which belong to this spiritual kingdom, in order to estimate their importance, and the blindness of him who takes no account of them. We refer first to the life of a man once obscure and unnoticed in an obscure nation, who by the force of His life and of His character has swayed more souls and done more for man's inner life than all other human beings put together. What would the external manifestations of man's nature, manners, morals, law, art, science, government, be at this day apart from Jesus Christ; and yet His peculiar province is the invisible region of the soul. Listen to the words in which a noted novelist of Germany, Jean Paul, speaks of Him: "Jesus, the purest among the mighty, the mightiest among the pure, with His pierced hand lifted kingdoms of[ their hinges, the stream of centuries out of its bed, and still rules the ages on their course. An individual once trod on the earth, who by moral omnipotence alone controlled other times and founded an eternity of His own; one, who, soft-blooming and easily drawn as a sun-flower, burning and attracting as a sun, still, in His mild form, moved and turned Himself and nations and centuries together towards the all-enlightening primal sun: it is that still Spirit, which we call Jesus Christ. If He existed, either there is a Providence, or He is that Providence. Only quiet teaching and quiet dying were the notes wherewith this higher Orpheus tamed men-beasts, and turned rocks by His music into cities." The power, then, by which this wonderful life of Jesus fed itself, was wholly of the spiritual world. And by what instruments has He worked so mightily on human hearts and characters? By spiritual ones, by the feeling of guilt, the longing for purity and peace of soul, by offering pardon and the promises of life-giving assistance to the contrite, by a life and example of united love and holiness, by unveiling God and the soul's unending life.
4. These events of the spiritual world among mankind depend on the existence and presence of a spiritual world above mankind. This is indeed obvious, and has come into view as we looked at the life of Christ and of those who followed Him in a spiritual life. If the unbeliever is on true, safe ground, there is nothing that ought to rule the life except the material earth and its laws, the desires, chiefly the animal ones, and some few of the social principles. If the spiritual man is right, there is a higher world, beyond the laws of matter, desire, and society. The exercise of his reason, conscience, and affections has introduced him among a different set of realities, which themselves involve the existence of real personalities above man. He now acknowledges the laws of a moral universe — laws made to regulate thought, and therefore emanating from a being who has planned and thought. Sin itself, felt in his conscience, conducts down upon him the justice of the universe. When once God is admitted to be a reality, there is a system centering at His throne; let him for a moment, in thought, conceive of God as not existing, and the spiritual world among men becomes darkly and inexplicably incomplete.
5. If, now, there is such a world with God for its centre, it is the height of blindness not to see it. This is obvious from a great variety of considerations. If there is such a world, it must be of infinite importance compared with the world of matter; the interests of the soul are bound lip with it, and to live as if they depended upon the earth must be self-ruin.
6. Such blindness needs to be overcome by a Divine act of opening the eyes. Men may well pray "Lord, open his eyes that he may see." And the unbeliever himself, if a glimmering of light falls on him, may well pray for help from the God of light. If there is such an entire contrast between the worlds of which we have spoken, it must needs be that old habits of thought, strengthened through an unspiritual life, must render spiritual apprehension exceedingly difficult.
(T. D. Woolsey.)I. THE HEAVY PRESSURE OF OUTWARD AND VISIBLE THINGS UPON US WHO ARE STILL IN THE BODY.
1. There is the business of life.
2. There are the pleasures of life.
3. There are the trials of life.
II. And yet the history before us is designed to show HOW VERY NEAR, ALL THE WHILE, LIES ANOTHER WORLD AND ANOTHER LIFE, ALTOGETHER OF SPIRIT, AND HEAVEN, AND GOD.
III. WHAT, THEN, ARE THESE OTHER TRUTHS, THESE OTHER REALITIES, AS THE WORD OF GOD DISCLOSES THEM?
1. The revelation of God's providence.
2. But the thought of providence, and of that which goes to make it, has an aspect of fear as well as of joy.
3. Yet let us not speak of God, as if He were an Observer only, and not chiefly and, above all, the Friend of man.
IV. A MAN PASSES OUT OF THE LIFE OF SIGHT INTO THE LIFE OF FAITH, BY THAT OPENING OF THE EYES OF WHICH THE TEXT TELLS.
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