Read 2 Kings v.
I wish to call your attention to a man rather than to a text; to one who was a great man in his own country, and very honourable; one whom the king delighted to honour. He stood high in position; he was captain of the host of the king of Syria; but he was a leper, and that threw a blight over his whole life.
Now, you cannot have a better type of a sinner than Naaman was. I don't care who nor what he is, nor what position he holds--all men alike have sinned, and all have to bear the same burden of death. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." All men must stand in judgment before God; what a gloom that throws over our whole life!
But he was a leper. There was
to help him in Syria. None of the eminent doctors in Damascus could do him any good. Neither could any in Jerusalem. There was no balm in Gilead. If he was to get rid of the leprosy, the power must come from on high. It must be some one unknown to Naaman, for he did not know God.
THE LITTLE MISSIONARY.
But I will tell you what they had in Syria--they had one of God's children there, and she was a little girl, a simple captive maid. Naaman knew nothing about her, though she was one of his household. He knew nothing about this little Israelite. I can imagine her one day as she said to Mrs. Naaman, her mistress, that there was a prophet in her country that could cure her master of his leprosy. "Would to God," the maid said, "my lord were with the prophet in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy." There's faith for you! "Why," says the mistress, "what are you talking about? Did you ever hear of anybody being cured of leprosy?" "Ah," said the little girl, "it is true, I can assure you; we have got physicians down there that can cure any one."
So at last some one told the king about what the little maid of Israel had said. Now, Naaman stood high in the king's favour, for he had recently won a great victory. He was called a lord, perhaps he was a prince, a sort of Syrian Prince Bismarck, who stood near the throne. So the king said, "You had better go down to Samaria, and see if there is anything in it, and I will give you letters of introduction to the king of Israel."
MONEY WILL NOT BUY SALVATION.
Yes, he would give Naaman letters of introduction to the king. That's just man's idea. The notion was, that if anybody could help him, it was the king, and that the king had power both with God and man. Oh, my friends, it is a good deal better to know a man that knows God! A man acquainted with God has more power than any earthly potentate. Gold can't do everything.
Well, away goes Naaman down to Samaria with his kingly introduction, and he takes with him a lot of gold and silver. That is man's idea again; he is going to pay for a great doctor, and he took about £100,000 sterling, as far as I can make it out, to pay for the doctor's bill. There are a good many men who would willingly pay that sum if with it they could buy the favour of God, and get rid of the curse of sin. Yes, if money could do it, how many would buy salvation! But, thank God, it is not in the market for sale. You must buy it at God's price, and that is "without money and without price." Naaman found that out.
And now, my dear friends, did you ever ask yourselves, Which is the worst--the leprosy of sin, or the leprosy of the body? Why, for my own part, I would a thousand times sooner have the leprosy of the body eating my eyes out, and feet, and arms! I would rather be loathsome in the sight of my fellow-men, than die with the leprosy of sin in my soul, and be banished from God for ever! The leprosy of the body is bad, but the leprosy of sin is a thousand times worse. It has cast angels out of heaven, it has ruined the best and strongest men that ever lived in the world. Oh, how it has pulled men down! The leprosy of the body could not do that.
But to proceed. There is one thing about Naaman that I like, and that is his earnestness of purpose.
HE WAS THOROUGHLY IN EARNEST.
He was quite willing to go one hundred and fifty miles, and to take the advice of this little maid. A good many people say, "Oh, I don't like such and such a minister; I should like to know where he comes from, and what he has done, and whether any bishop has laid his hands on his head." My dear friends, never mind the minister, it is the message you want. Why, if some one were to send me a telegraph message, and the news were important, I shouldn't stop to ask about the messenger who brought it. I should want to read the news; I should look at the message, and not at the boy who brought it.
And so it is with God's message. The good news is everything, the minister nothing. The Syrians looked down with contempt on the Israelites, and yet this great man was willing to take the good news at the hands of this little maiden, and listened to the words that fell from her lips. Why, if I got lost in London, I should be willing to ask anybody which way to go, even if it were only a shoeblack boy; and, in point of fact, a boy's word in such a case is often better than a man's. It is the way I want, not the person who directs me.
HUMAN PRIDE BROUGHT LOW.
But there was one drawback in Naaman's case. Though he was willing to take the advice of the little girl, he was not willing to take the remedy. The stumbling-block of pride stood in his way. The remedy the prophet offered him was a terrible blow to his pride. I have no doubt he expected a grand reception from the king of Israel, to whom he brought letters of introduction. He had been victorious on many a field of battle, and held high rank in the army; perhaps we may call him Major-General Naaman of Syria, or he might have been higher in rank even than that; and bearing with him kingly credentials, he expected no doubt a distinguished reception. But instead of the king rushing out to meet him, he, when he heard of Naaman's arrival, and his object, simply rent his mantle, and said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive?"
But at last the king bethinks himself of Elisha the prophet, and he says, "There is a subject in my kingdom who may be able to help you and cure your leprosy." And I can imagine Naaman's pride reasoning thus: "Surely the prophet will feel very much exalted and flattered that I, the great Syrian general, should come and call upon him." And so, probably, full of those proud thoughts, he drives up to the prophet's humble dwelling with his chariot, four-in-hand, and his splendid retinue. Yes, Naaman drove up in grand style to the prophet's abode, and as nobody seemed to be coming out to greet him, he sent in his message: "Tell the prophet Major-General Naaman of Syria has arrived, and wishes to see him."
THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE.
Elisha takes it very coolly. He does not come out to see him, but as soon as he learns his errand he sends his servant to tell him to dip seven times in the river Jordan, and he shall be clean. Now that was a terrible blow to his pride. I can imagine him saying to his servant, "What did you say? Did I understand you aright? Dip seven times in Jordan! Why, we call the river Jordan a
ditch in our country." But the only answer he got was, "The prophet says, Go and dip seven times in the Jordan, and thy flesh shall become like the flesh of a little child." I can fancy Naaman's indignation as he asks, "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage.
The fact was, the Jordan never had any great reputation as a river. It flowed into the Dead Sea, and that sea never had a harbour to it, and its banks were not half so beautiful as those of the rivers of Damascus; for Damascus was one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it is said that when Mahomet beheld it he turned his head aside for fear it should divert his thoughts from heaven.
Naaman turned away in a rage. "Ah," he said, "here am I, a great conqueror, a successful general on the battlefield, holding the very highest rank in the army, and yet this prophet does not even come out to meet me; he simply sends a message. Why, I thought he would surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place and recover the leper."
There it is; I never knew a man yet who, when talked to about his sins, didn't always say, "Yes, but I
thought so and so." "Mr. Moody," they say, "I will tell you what
I think; I will tell you
my opinion." In the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah it says, "God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways." And so it was with Naaman. In the first place he thought a good big doctor's fee would do it all, and settle everything up. And besides that there was another thing he thought; he thought going to the king with his letters of introduction would do it. Yes, those were Naaman's first thoughts.
I thought. Exactly so. He turned away in rage and disappointment. He thought the prophet would have come out to him very humble and very subservient, and bid him do some great things. Instead of that Elisha, who was very likely busy writing, did not even come to the door or the window; he merely sent out the message, "Tell him to dip seven times in the Jordan." And away went Naaman, saying,
I thought, I thought, I thought. I have heard that tale so often that I am tired of it. I will tell you just what I think about it, and what I advise you to do--"Give it up," and take God's words, God's thoughts, God's ways. I never yet knew a man converted just in the time and manner he expected to be. Now there is a class of people in our country who have been looked down upon there, just as they have been in yours; I mean the Methodists. And I have heard people say, "Well, if ever I am converted, it won't be in a Methodist church; you won't catch me there." Now, I never knew a man say that but, at last, if converted at all, it was in a Methodist church.
A man to be converted has to give up his will, his ways, and his thoughts. And I have noticed this, that when a man says, "Well, if ever I am converted, it will be in this way or that," God leads him in quite a contrary direction. And so Naaman, after his anger had abated and cooled down a little, took a second thought, which proved the best, although his pride had been so dreadfully humbled.
THE SIMPLE REMEDY.
Whilst Naaman was thus wavering in his mind, and thinking on what was best to be done, one of his servants drew near and made a very sensible remark: "My lord, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?" Yes, and there is a great deal of truth in that.
Why, if Elisha had said to him, "Go back to Syria on your hands and knees," he would most likely have done it. If he had said, "Go back all the way on one foot," he would have tried to do it. Or if he had said, "Give ten thousand pieces of gold for the medicine I shall offer thee, and thou shalt be cleansed," no doubt he would have done it. But to tell him merely to dip in the river Jordan seven times, why, it seemed absurd on the face of it. Well, this servant suggested to him that he had better go down to the Jordan and try the remedy, as it was a very simple one.
I can fancy Naaman, still reluctant to believe in it, saying, "Why, if there is such cleansing power in the waters of Jordan, would not every leper in Israel go down and dip in them, and be healed?" "Well, but you know," urges the servant, "now that you have come a hundred and fifty miles, don't you think you had better do what he tells you; for after all you can but try it; and he sends word distinctly, my lord, that your flesh shall come again as that of a little child." And so Naaman accepts this word in season. His anger is cooling down; he has got over the first flush of his indignation, and he says, "Well, I think I might as well try it." That was the starting-point of his faith, although still he thought it a foolish thing, and could not bring himself to believe that the result would be what the prophet had said.
How many men have told me right to my face they did not believe a man could be saved by simply obeying God. Faith, they thought, was not enough, they must do something. They will have it that there must be a little asking, and reasoning, and striving, and wrestling with God, before they can get the blessing.
I recollect once praying with a man for his conversion, and just when I thought conviction had been brought home to him, he turned round and said, "Who do you think Melchisedek was, Mr. Moody?" And then I have had others who, when I have been praying with them that their sins might be taken away, would turn round and ask me, "Do you believe in infant baptism, Mr. Moody?" My friends, you need not trouble yourselves about those questions, but, if you wish to be saved, just do as the Bible tells you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved (Acts xvii. 31).
The salvation of God requires from the sinner an
Well, at last Naaman's will was conquered, and subdued, and broken; and he had faith, and he surrendered. I recollect when General Grant was besieging a town which was the stronghold of the Southern Confederacy, some of the officers sent word that they would leave the city if he would let them go with their men. But General Grant sent word, "No, nothing but an unconditional surrender!" Then they sent word that they would go if he would let them take their flag with them. But the answer was, "No, an unconditional surrender." At last the beleaguered walls were broken down, and the city entered, and then the enemy made a complete and unconditional surrender. Well, it was so with Naaman, he got to that point when he was willing to obey, and the Scripture tells us, "To obey is better than to sacrifice."
So he goes down to the river and takes the first dip, and as he comes up, I can imagine him looking at himself, and saying to his servant, "There, there I am, no better than I was when I went in. If one-seventh of the leprosy was gone, I should be content." Well, down he goes a second time, and he comes up puffing and blowing as much a leper as ever; and so he goes down again and again, the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, with the same result, as much a leper as ever. And the people standing on the banks of the river probably said, as they certainly would in our day, "Why, that man has gone clean out of his mind." So when he comes up the sixth time, he looks at himself, and says, "Ah, no better. What a fool I have made of myself. How they will all laugh at me. I wouldn't have the generals and aristocracy of Damascus know that I have been dipping in this way in Jordan for all the world. However, as I have gone so far, I'll make the seventh plunge." He has not altogether lost faith, and down he goes the seventh time, and comes up again. He looks at himself, and shouts aloud for joy. "Lo, I am well! My leprosy is all gone, all gone! My flesh has come again as that of a little child. I never knew such a thing. I never felt so happy in all my life. I thought I was a great and a happy man when I accomplished that victory; but, thank God, praise God, I am the happiest man alive!"
So he comes up out of Jordan and puts on his clothes, and goes back to the prophet, and wants to pay him. That's just the old story, Naaman wants to give money for his cure. How many people want to do the same nowadays? Why, it would have spoiled the story of grace if the prophet had taken anything. You may give a thank-offering to God's cause, not to purchase salvation, but because you are saved.
The prophet Elisha refused to take anything, and I can imagine no one felt more rejoiced than he did. So Naaman starts back to Damascus a very different man than he was when he left it. The dark cloud has gone from his mind; he is no longer a leper, in fear of dying from a loathsome disease. He lost the leprosy in Jordan when he did what the man of God told him; and if you obey the voice of God, even while I am speaking to you, the burden of your sins will fall from off you, and you shall be cleansed. It is all done by the power of faith.
Well, you may be sure when he got home there was no small stir in Naaman's house. I can just see his wife, Mrs. Naaman, when he gets back; she has been watching and looking out of the window for him with a great burden on her heart. And when she asks him, "Well, husband, how is it?" I can see the tears running down his cheeks as he says, "Thank God, I am well"; and then they embrace each other, and pour out mutual expressions of rejoicing and gladness; and the servants are just as glad as their master and mistress, as they have been waiting eagerly for the news; and there never was a happier household than Naaman's now that he has got rid of the leprosy. And so, my friends, it will be with your own households if you will only get rid of the leprosy of sin to-day. Not only will there be joy in your own hearts and at home, but there will also be joy among the saints in heaven.
Another thought is suggested to us by this history of Naaman in the fifteenth verse of the chapter; and which shows what Naaman's faith led him to believe. "And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant." Now what I want particularly to call your attention to is the words,
There is no hesitation about it, no qualifying the expression. Naaman doesn't now say, "I think"; no, he says, "I know there is a God who has power to forgive sins and to cleanse the leprosy."
Then there is another thought. Naaman left only one thing in Samaria, and that was his sin, his leprosy; and the only thing God wishes you to leave with Him is your sin. And yet it is the only thing you seem not to care about giving up. "Oh," you say, "I love leprosy, it is so delightful, I can't give it up; I know God wants it, that He may make me clean. But I can't give it up." Why, what downright madness it is for you to love leprosy; and yet that is your condition. "Ah, but," says some one, "I don't believe in sudden conversions." Don't you? Well, how long did it take Naaman to be cured? The seventh time he went down, away went the leprosy. Read the great conversions recorded in the Bible. Saul of Tarsus, Zacchæus, and a host of others; how long did it take the Lord to bring them about? Why, they were effected in a minute. We are born in iniquity, shapen in it, dead in trespasses and sin; but when spiritual life comes it comes in a moment, and we are free both from sin and death.
The other day, as I was walking down the street, I heard some people laughing and talking aloud, and one of them said, "Well, there will be no difference, it will be all the same a hundred years hence." And the thought flashed across my mind, "Will there be no difference?
WHERE WILL YOU BE A HUNDRED YEARS HENCE?"
Young man, just ask yourself the question, "Where shall I be?" Some of you who are getting on in years may be in eternity ten years hence. Where will you be, on the left or the right hand of God? I cannot tell your feelings, but I can my own.
A hundred years hence all this vast audience will be gone. Some will probably be gone in less than a week, in less than a month or a year, and at the best we shall all be gone in a few more years. I ask you once again, "Where will you spend eternity? Where will you be a hundred years hence?"
THE CONVERTED NOBLEMAN.
I heard the other day of a man who came a few years ago from the Continent, and brought letters with him to eminent physicians from the Emperor. And the letters said, "This man is a personal friend of mine, and we are afraid he is going to lose his reason; do all you can for him." So the doctor asked him if he had lost any dear friend in his own country, or any position of importance, or what it was that was weighing on his mind. And the young man said, "No; but my father and grandfather and myself were brought up infidels, and for the last two or three years this thought has been haunting me, 'Where shall I spend eternity?' And the thought of it follows me day and night."
The doctor said, "You have come to the wrong physician, but I will tell you of one who can cure you"; and he told him of Christ, and read to him the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, "With His stripes we are healed." And the young man said, "Doctor, do you believe that?" The doctor told him he did, and prayed and wrestled with him, and at last the dear light of Calvary shone on his soul, and a few years ago he was writing to this self-same doctor as only one Christian can to another. He had settled the question in his own mind at last where he would spend eternity; and I ask you sinners to settle it before you leave this hall to-night. It is for you to decide. Shall it be with the saints, and martyrs, and prophets, or in the dark caverns of hell, amidst blackness and darkness for ever? Make haste to be wise; for "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?"
At our church in Chicago I was closing the meeting one day, when a young soldier got up and entreated the people to decide for Christ at once. He said he had just come from a dark scene. A comrade of his, he said, who had enlisted with him, had a father who was always entreating him to become a Christian, and in reply he always said he would when the war was over. At last he was wounded, and was put into the hospital, but got worse and was gradually sinking. One day, a few hours before he died, a letter came from his sister, but he was too bad to read it. Oh, it was such an earnest letter! The comrade read it to him, but he did not seem to understand it, he was so weak, till it came to the last sentence, which said, "Oh, my dear brother, when you get this letter, will you not accept your sister's Saviour?" The dying man sprang up from his cot, and said, "What do you say? What do you say?" and then, falling back on his pillow, feebly exclaimed, "It is too late! It is too late!"
My dear friends, thank God it is not
too late for you to-day. The Master is still calling you. Are you going to let present opportunity pass without coming to Christ? Are you going to let these solemn moments come to an end without entering the ark? Let every one of us, young and old, rich and poor, come to Christ at once, and He will put all our sins away.
Only a step to Jesus, O why not come, and say, Gladly to Thee, my Saviour, I give myself away.