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BY THE REV. HUGH MACMILLAN, D.D., LL.D. * And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing ...... And Elisha went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands : and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.'—2 KINGS IV, 31, 34, 35. The story of the Shunammite and her son is one of the most charming idyls in the Bible. It abounds in the most beautiful touches of nature; and though the mould in which it is cast is peculiarly Eastern, its simple pathos appeals to the universal human heart. It is full of suggestive meanings, and contains lessons upon which a whole volume might be written. But passing from the simple, obvious instruction which the narrative bears upon the surface of it, I wish to use the significant incidents connected with the child's restoration as an acted parable. It is in this way that the miracles of the Old and New Testaments have a permanent use and value. The supernatural element in them cannot be repeated, for, like all creative acts, it is unique; but the moral element can be perpetuated, and we can proceed on the lines of action which the miracles have laid down, just as we can use what has been created, for our own purposes, though we cannot create. Looking at the incidents of the miracle of Shunem in this light, they seem to me to afford admirable illustrations of the two prevailing methods of doing good, both on a large scale, as affecting the highest interests of the whole human race; and on a small scale, as affecting the spiritual and temporal interests of individuals. The one method of doing good, which may be called the impersonal, is illustrated by Gehazi putting the staff of the prophet upon the face of the dead child; the other, or personal method, is illustrated by the prophet stretching himself upon the dead body, and by his own exertions and sacrifices restoring the life that had fled. Let me consider these two illustrations separately.
VOL. VII.-SIXTH SERIES,
I The impersonal method.-Although an inspired prophet, Elisha was a man subject to like passions with ourselves. He had to
to increase in faith, and to grope through darkness after light, like any other servant of the Lord. He was not always inspired. There were times when he bad to acquire his knowledge as we have to acquire ours, by painful experience, by slow degrees, and repeated failures and disappointments. In regard to this matter of the Shunammite's son, he himself confesses his ignorance. He says, “the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.' In sending Gehazi with his staff to lay it upon the dead child's face, he was therefore trying an experiment; he was doing not what the Lord had revealed to him, but what he himself imagined was the best thing to do in the circumstances. He transferred the mantle of Elijah from himself to Gehazi in perfect faith. He expected that some good might be done, if the grand miracle of restoration could not be accomplished. The circumstances brooked no delay. The child was dead; and in that hot Eastern clime, burial speedily followed upon death, for the work of decay began almost as soon as the breath left the body. If therefore the dreadful process of dissolution was to be prevented, and the corpse was to be restored, while the echoes of life were still ringing as it were about its central parts, no time was to be lost. The prophet himself could not go; he could not leave the poor mother in her anguish ; he must try and do something to comfort her while she is clinging to his feet and imploring his sympathy and aid. And therefore he sent his servant with his staff: that instrument of power which on former occasions God had honoured with success—which, like Moses' rod, had wrought wonderful miracles; hoping that if it could not restore life, it might at least avert decomposition, and preserve the body in that exquisite repose,
• Before decay's effacing fingers
Have swept the lines where beauty lingers; ' and which in little children is so like an angel's sleep. He did what he could at the time; but it was not sufficient. His action was impersonal; it was wrought by another, by a mere servant; it did not proceed from a true knowledge of the case, and it did not contain the requisite amount of faith. For these reasons it did not succeed. Death would not release his prey at the bidding of such a feeble and inadequate instrumentality. Elisha himself did not manifest any surprise when Gehazi returned from his fruitless errand, and told him, saying, “The child is not awaked.' Having adopted the measure as a human precaution, and not at the instigation of God's Spirit, he could not count upon success ; and therefore there was no revulsion of feeling, no shock to his faith. He knew by the result that he had committed an error in judgment, that he had adopted the wrong expedient; and upon its failure he was prepared to try the personal method, by going himself to the scene of death, and doing what he could himself to raise the dead to life.
It will be lawful, in the first place, to apply this incident to the mode of salvation that existed in the time of Elisha—the method of imparting life to the dead body of humanity by the dispensations previous to the Gospel. These modes were all impersonal. God Himself did not come into closest contact with men, did not identify Himself with their interests, did not assume their nature or tabernacle with them. As Elisha sent his servant to restore the dead child, so He sent His prophets and priests and godly men, and spoke to mankind at sundry times and in divers manners. He sent His servants with His commission, and gave them His staff, the rod of His power. He entered into covenant with Israel, and gave them laws and institutions for their guidance and blessing. But the result of all His impersonal dealings with the human race before the appearance of the Saviour, was like the result of Gehazi's laying the prophet's staff upon the face of the dead child. Some good was done, indeed. The decay of religion was prevented; the process of spiritual decomposition was arrested; the possibilities of restoration were conserved; and the body of humanity was kept at least from sinking into a deeper spiritual death, and yielding to the dissolving forces which were assailing it in the world. But no spiritual life was enkindled; the sleep of death was not broken; mankind, dead in trespasses and sins, heard no voice, and felt no touch potent enough to break the spell that bound it down in spiritual torpor and coldness. Scripture itself tells us of the insufficiency of all the means and appliances that were used under the old dispensations to quicken mankind into newness of life. It tells us that the law made nothing perfect;' that it could not effect the restoration which it proclaimed in that it was weak through the flesh'; that it had only a shadow of good things to come. The whole Bible declares the truth that the law—not the ceremonial law, which was done away with by the coming of the Gospel, but the eternal and unchangeable rule of righteousness, which is the transcript of the Divine nature and the harmony of the universe-was unable, notwithstanding its awful thieatenings and glorious rewards, to cope with human corruption, and remedy the evils of sin. Even when it had been brought home with enlightening efficacy and convincing power to the heart and conscience, its effect was often only to stimulate dormant evil longings and latent corrupt affections into virulent action. Its prohibitions and restraints, so far from killing sinful desire, had a tendency to increase it ; sin took 'occasion by the commandment,' and that which was ordained to life,' proved to be unto death.'
St. Paul records his own experience of its futility: 'I had not known sin,' he says, “but by the law... For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.' And even its rewards were abstractions which, however beautiful and alluring in description and prospect, were nevertheless powerless to counteract the present temptations that came to human beings in warm, living, breathing shapes of filesh and blood. The law may induce a man actually to refuse the offers
and allurements of evil, but not in affection. It cannot grapple with the sin of the heart, and order aright the government of that invisible kingdom within where Satan wages his most successful war. Its terrors and its blessings have no effect in that inner world where we have to do, not with the realities, but with the ideal forms of sin—where there are none of the restraints and mitigations that hinder the full power of evil in the world without; but ambition is uniformly successful, and pleasure leaves no stains or stings behind ; and vice instead of being clothed in rags and fed on the beggar's dole, is clothed in purple and fares sumptuously every day. If,' says the Apostle, there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.' But such is the inherent corruption of human nature, that no law, however holy or however sanctioned, could reach and cure the disease. The laying of it as a standard of righteousness before a soul dead in trespasses and sins, is as useless as was the laying of the prophet's staff on the dead child's face. It only shows the deadness of the soul all the more.
And if this be the case with the great impersonal method for the salvation of the whole race and of the whole of human nature from all evil effects of the curse of sin, we find that it is very strikingly the case with every individual attempt to overcome the individual evils of the curse in particular persons. Much of the exercise of benevolence in these days is impersonal. As our agricultural occupations are now carried on by the aid of machinery; as our fields are sown and reaped, not by manual labour coming into close contact with the seed in the sowing and with the stalks of ripe corn in the reaping, but by means of implements that remove the human agency to a greater distance from the objects that are acted upon ; so, much of our spiritual sowing and reaping is also done by means of formal organizations-committees, associations, and societies. Many try to do good by means of others. They bribe substitutes to undertake the duty which rests upon every human being to relieve personally the brother whom he sees in want, and by paying an occasional fine in money or money's worth, they seek exemption from being their distressed brother's keeper, and freedom to carry on their own selfish business or pleasure unmolested. They send their servant, as the prophet sent Gehazi, to heal some clamant evil by the aid of their staff; by the help of something that is useful to them, but not indispensable; something that belongs to them, but is not a part of themselves; something that they can spare without inconvenience. The staff that they use represents their money, their help, whatever shape it assumes ; and their Gehazi is the missionary or minister, the society or collector, whom they use in distributing their help. Thus they themselves never come into contact with the evil they seek to redress; they never see the objects of their charity; they have no personal interest in them, no sympathy of heart and soul with them as brothers and sisters sharing the same human nature. And acting in this impersonal way, having our good deeds done for us by proxies and substitutes, standing aloof from the objects of our benevolence, giving only a staff-something which we never miss; subjecting ourselves to no real sacrifice, no pain or trouble or inconvenience; sending our alms by the hands of a servant who may turn out to be as covetous, hard and careless of the interests of those for whom he acts and to whom he administers help as Gehazi; doing the work only for the sake of the reputation, or the substantial loaves and fishes connected with it—we need not wonder that so many of our efforts to remove the evil of the world should be so unsuccessful. Its dead, cold form remains pulseless and motionless under the pitying heavens. There is no answering thrill of life, no voice to break the awful stillness. Instead of making the miserable better, we have made them more ungrateful and improvident, and we have made ourselves callous, world-bound, and deeper sunk than ever in the very barbarism of our prosperity. In spite of the multitudes of our societies and our innumerable efforts, the dead body of the misery that is in the world is as cold and impassive as ever; and we are ready to despair of its ever being raised to life at all, and can think of nothing better than to let it slowly disappear, by its own corruption and disintegration, off the face of the earth.
II. But there is a more excellent way—the personal method of doing good, as illustrated by Elisha stretching himself upon the dead body of the child. When the prophet learned the failure of Gehazi's application of his staff to the corpse, he went himself to the upper chamber where the child was laid out stiff and cold on his own bed; and there, along with fervent prayer to God, repeatedly and pressingly presented, he used the most elaborate means to restore the life that had fled. He stretched himself upon the dead child; each part of his own body being laid upon the corresponding part of the body of the child. He put his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands. In this way he did all he could to revive the pulses and restore the functions which had been frozen into immobility by death. He strove to impart his own vital caloric, and so make the body plastic for the use of the spirit when it should come back—'to heat the iron upon which the hammer of the Almighty was about to strike.' He himself lost the virtue which he thus communicated to the system of the child; for we find that, chilled by contact with the cold corpse, he rose from the bed and walked to and fro in the room, as if to recover by exercise the warmth that had passed from him. And thus putting himself as far as possible in the room of the dead, taking all the evil to himself, feeling the sorrow of the bereaved mother as though it were his own sorrow,
he succeeded in gradually bringing the child to life, and had the infinite happiness of restoring him to his rejoicing mother. And how significant is all this of the Divine method of restoring the dead body of humanity through the life and death of Christ. Does not the stretching of the prophet upon the dead child—each member of his own body being applied to the corresponding member of the lifeless corpse, and by this