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NAAMAN CURED.






From: HOW TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST

There is no Scripture story better known than that of Naaman, the
Syrian. It is memorable not only because artistically told, but
because it is so full of human feeling and rapid incident, and so
fertile in significant ideas. The little maid, whose touch set in
motion this drama, is an instance of the adaptability of the Jew.
Nothing seemed less likely than that this captive girl should carry
with her into Syria anything of much value to anyone. Possessions she
had none. Friends she might have, only if she could make them. As a
captive in a foreign land she might reasonably have put aside all
hope of obtaining any influence, and might naturally have sought only
to benefit herself. But she was a girl with a heart. She at once took
an interest in her new home, and saw with sorrowful surprise that
wealth could not purchase immunity from participation in the ordinary
human distresses, nor guarded gates forbid disease to pass in.
Brooding from day to day over the stories she had heard of Elisha's
power, and listening to her mistress's account of the failure of
still another attempted cure, she exclaims with childlike confidence
and earnestness, "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in
Samaria! then would he recover him of his leprosy." And thus her
natural interest in the troubles of other people, her cheerful and
spirited acceptance of her position, and the sense that taught her to
make the most of it, brought her this great opportunity of doing an
important service. No one can lay the blame of his uselessness and
lack of good influence on his lack of opportunity, if he is in
contact with men at all, for wherever there are human beings there
are sorrows to be sympathised with, wants to be relieved, characters
to be fashioned.

And while this Jewish maid was utilising her captivity, her parents,
if alive, would be eating their hearts out with anxiety and anguish,
imagining for their daughter the worst of destinies. Instead of the
horrors which usually follow such a captivity, she is cared for in a
comfortable home. Little did the parents, think that there was any
work to be done in Syria, which none could so well do as their little
girl. The Lord had need of her, and knew that when the parents heard
all they would not resent that their daughter had been thus employed.
None of us see much further into the ways of Providence than those
parents saw. Now, as then, those who are bound up in one another are
separated, in order that ends even more important than the growth and
gratification of natural affections may be attained.

Significant, also, is the dismay of Joram, King of Israel, when he
received the letter bidding him find healing for Naaman. So little
did he believe in Elisha's power that he concluded the King of Syria
sought to pick a quarrel with him by asking him for a favour he knew
he could not grant. But while the king is helplessly tearing his
clothes in a passion of despair, Elisha sends him a message which, at
least for the present, gives him some calmness: "Why hast thou rent
thy clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is
a prophet in Israel." Elisha is ashamed that the King of Israel
should have exhibited such weakness before a foreign potentate. He
feels that the honour of Israel's God is implicated, and boldly takes
upon himself the responsibility of the cure. Bold it certainly was,
and tells of a confident faith that God will be faithful to His
servants. The king had no such faith. There was a power resident in
Israel of which he took no account. Like many other governments, this
Israelitish monarchy was unaware of its own resources, because it did
not condescend to reckon what was spiritual. Frequently in civil
history you find governments brought face to face with matters for
which they are, with all their resources, incompetent. In modern
Europe, and as much in our own country as in others, everything gives
place to politics. Nothing stirs so much excitement. Differences in
religion do not sever men as differences in politics do. We should,
therefore, recognise what is here suggested, and should
counter-balance an undue regard for political movements and political
power by the remembrance that the hardest tasks of all are
accomplished by quite another power, and by a power which the
politician often overlooks. What have we seen time after time in our
own Parliament, but the civil power rending its garments over evils
which it cannot cure? Are not the remedies which have been proposed
for prevalent vices absurdly incompetent? And it is the Church's
shame if she cannot step forward and confidently say, You cannot deal
with such things; hand them over to me. There must always be
"distempers of society" which rot the very life out of a nation, and
for which legislation and criminal law are wholly inadequate.
Honest-minded men who will not trifle with alarming abuses, who will
not pretend they have found a remedy, must simply rend their garments
in their presence. And it is well that in our day, as in others,
there are men who, trusting in personal effort and Divine aid,
practically say to Government, "leave these things to us." Christian
charity and practical wisdom have, in our day effected a good deal
more than the healing of one leprous grandee, even if as yet the
spiritual force that resides in the community is only spasmodically
and partially applied to existing evil.

Elisha's treatment of Naaman was intended to bring him into direct
and conscious dependence on God; or, in other words, to produce
humility and faith. Some persons are crushed and mastered by pain and
sickness, and some gain in spiritual worth what they lose in physical
strength. But Naaman's disease had as yet done little to instruct
him. He came as a great man, with his servants, and chariots, and
piles of money, to purchase a cure from a skilled man. He did not see
what Elisha plainly saw, that if this blessing came at all, it must
come from Israel's God, and that with Jehovah no man Could barter or
be on bargaining terms, but must accept freely what was freely given.
Therefore Elisha refuses even to see him, that Naaman might
understand it was with God he had to do; and by refusing a single
penny of payment he compelled the Syrian to humble himself and accept
his cure as a gift.

And probably the incident finds a place in the sacred history because
it marked an important step in the knowledge of God. It was an early
instance of the Conquests which the God of Israel was to make among
the heathen, a distinct and legible proof that whoever from among the
outlying nations appealed to Him for help would receive the blessing
he sought. But it was more than this, it emphasized the freeness of
all God's gifts. Nothing could be purchased from Jehovah; everything
must be received as a gift. This was a new idea to the heathen, and
probably to many of the Israelites also. Certainly it is an idea that
is only dimly apprehended by ourselves. Our dealing with one another
is to so large an extent governed by the idea that nothing can be had
for nothing, that we carry this idea into our dealings with God, and
expect only what we can earn and claim. It is a wholesome pride that
prompts us to work at anything rather than be dependent on other men,
but it is a most unwholesome and ignorant pride that forbids us to
acknowledge our dependence on God, and to accept freely what He
freely gives. Until we learn to live in God, to own Him as alone
having life in Himself, and to accept from Him life and all that
sustains it, both physical and spiritual, we are not recognising the
truth and living in it. Our good deeds and good feelings, our
repentances and righteous intentions and endeavours, are as much out
of place as a means of procuring God's favour and help as Naaman's
talents of silver and pieces of gold. We have God's favour
irrespective of our merit, and we must humble ourselves to accept it
as His free gift, which we could not earn and have not earned.

Naaman no sooner saw that Jehovah was a living and true God than he
perceived that certain practical difficulties would result from this
belief. Sometimes men do not connect their belief with their
practice; they do not let their left hand know what their right hand
is doing. But Naaman . foresaw that, as hitherto, he would still be
expected to enter the temple of the god Rimmon when his master went
to worship. And he wished Elisha's authority for this measure of
conformity.

In our own country men have been severely tested by acts of
conformity. And nothing gives the conscience of the whole people so
decided a lift as when men prefer disgrace or death to a conformity
which they believe to be wrong.

Had Naaman been as uncompromising as Daniel, who would not conform
even so far as to pray in a different corner of his room, or as the
Christian soldiers who suffered death rather than throw a pinch of
incense on the altar before the Emperor's image, possibly Elisha
would have given him greater commendation than the mere acquiescence
pronounced in the words, "Go in peace."

But in exculpation of Naaman it is to be said that he did not hide
his new conviction, but built an altar to Jehovah in Damascus. And
especially it is to be remarked that in his case these acts of
conformity were not proposed as a test of his adherence to the
religion of the country; and this makes all the difference. Had
Naaman's master commanded him to bow in the house of Rimmon as a test
of his acknowledgment of the Syrian god, Naaman would have refused;
but so long as it was a mere act or courtesy to his master, the
formal act of a courtier, from which no inferences could be drawn, he
might reasonably continue it. To receive the communion kneeling is
customary in some churches, and so long as one is allowed to put his
own interpretation on the attitude, no harm can come of it. But at
one time this attitude was the test by which two great and
antagonistic parties in England were distinguished from one another;
a meaning was put upon the act which made it impossible to every man
who could not accept that meaning. Conformity then was sin, unless
conviction went with the outward act. In many points of conduct this
is a distinction of importance. There are many things which we may do
so far as the thing itself is concerned, but which we may not do when
the public mind is agitated upon that point and will draw certain
inferences from our conduct. There are many things which to us have
no moral significance at all, any more than sitting at one side or
other of our table; but if a moral significance is attached to such
things by other people, and if they invite us to do them or to leave
them undone as a test of our attitude towards God or Christianity or
of our moral bent, then we must beware of misleading other people and
defiling our own conscience. Bowing in the house of Rimmon meant
nothing new to Naaman; it was not worship; it was no more than
turning round a street corner when the king had hold of his arm. To
him the idol was now, as to Paul, "nothing in the world." But if the
king had said, "You must bow to show the people that you worship
Syria's god," then plainly the bowing would have been unjustifiable.
And similarly, if a matter which to us is of no moral significance
becomes a test of our disposition or attitude towards truth, we must
be guided in our conduct not solely by our own view of the
indifference of the matter, but also by the significance attached to
it by other people. There are other points of conduct regarding which
we have no need to consult any prophet; points in which we are asked
to conform to a custom we know to be bad, or to follow and
countenance other men in what we know to be unwholesome for us. To
conform in such cases is to train ourselves in hypocrisy; it is to
say Lord, Lord, while we allow the world actually to rule our life.






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