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 anythi
g 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


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.