I wish to call your attention to one who was a great man in his own country, and very honorable; one whom the king delighted to honor. 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. As Bishop Hall quaintly puts it, |The meanest slave in Syria would not have changed skins with him.|
Now you cannot have a better type of a sinner than Naaman was. I don't care who or what he is, or 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
who could help him in Syria. None of the eminent doctors in Damascus could do him any good. 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.
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, who waited on Mrs. Naaman. Naaman knew nothing about this little Israelite, though she was one of his household.
I can imagine that one day, as she was waiting on the general's wife, she noticed her weeping. Her heart was breaking because of the dark cloud that rested over her home. So she told her mistress that there was a prophet in her country that could cure her master of his leprosy. |Would to God,| she said, |my lord were with the prophet in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.|
There's faith for you!
She boasted of God that He would do more for this heathen than He had done for any in Israel; and
GOD HONORED HER FAITH.
|What do you say? A prophet in Israel that can cure leprosy?|
|Why, did you ever know any one that was cured?|
|Well, then, what makes you think there is a prophet that can cure leprosy?|
|Oh, that isn't anything to what Elisha can do. There was a little child that lived near us that died, and he raised him to life. He has done many wonderful things.|
She must have had a reputation for truthfulness. If she hadn't, her testimony would not have been taken.
Some one told the general of it, and he made it known to the king. Now, Naaman stood high in the king's favor, for he had recently won a great victory. He stood near the throne. So the king said:
|You had better go down to Samaria, and see if there is anything in it. I will give you letters of introduction to the King of Israel.|
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.
Away goes Naaman down to Samaria with his kingly introduction. What a stir it must have made when the commander of the Syrian army drove up! He has brought 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 five hundred thousand dollars 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 favor 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.
My dear friends, did you ever ask yourselves which is the worse -- the leprosy of sin, or the leprosy of the body? For my own part, I would a thousand times sooner have the leprosy of the body eating into my eyes, 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 forever! 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.
There is one thing about Naaman that I like specially, 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. 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. If I got lost in New York, I should be willing to ask anybody which way to go, even if it were only a shoeblack; 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.
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, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.|
Elisha heard of the king's trouble, and sent him a message, saying:
|Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.|
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 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 that Major-General Naaman of Syria has arrived, and wishes to see him.|
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.
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 the 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? Haven't I bathed myself hundreds of times, and has it helped me? Can water wash away leprosy?|
So he turned and went away in a rage.
It isn't a bad sign when a man gets mad if you tell him the truth. Some people are afraid of getting other people mad. I have known wives afraid to talk to their husbands, afraid of getting them mad. I have known mothers who were afraid to talk to their sons because they were
AFRAID THEY WOULD GET MAD.
Don't be afraid of getting them mad, if it is the truth that makes them mad. If it is our foolishness that makes them mad, then we have got reason to mourn over it. If it is the truth, God sent it, and it is a good deal better to have a man get mad than it is to have him go to sleep. I think the trouble with a great many nowadays is that they are sound asleep, and it is a good deal better to rouse them even if they do wake up mad.
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 harbor to it, and its banks were not half so beautiful as those of the rivers of Damascus. Damascus was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 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 hardly ever knew a man yet who, when talked to about his sins, didn't 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 55th chapter of Isaiah it says that 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 perhaps 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. 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. 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.| I never knew a man say that but, at last, if converted at all, it was in a Methodist church.
In Scotland a man was converted at one of our meetings -- an employer. He was very anxious that all his employees should be reached, and he used to send them one by one to the meetings. But there was one man that wouldn't come. We are all more or less troubled with stubbornness; and the moment this man found that his employer wanted him to go to the meetings he made up his mind he wouldn't go. If he was going to be converted, he said, he was going to be converted by some ordained minister; he was not going to any meeting that was conducted by Americans that were not ordained. He believed in conversion, but he was going to be
CONVERTED THE REGULAR WAY.
He believed in the regular Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and that was the place for him to be converted.
The employer tried every way he could to get him to attend the meetings, but he wouldn't come.
After we left that town and went away up to Inverness, the employer had some business up there, and he sent this employee to attend to it in the hope that he would attend some of our meetings.
One night as I was preaching on the banks of a river I happened to take this for my text: |I thought; I thought.| I was trying to take men's thoughts up and to show the difference between their thoughts and God's thoughts. This man happened to be walking along the banks of the river. He saw a great crowd, and heard some one talking, and he wondered to himself what that man was talking about. He didn't know who was there, so he drew up to the crowd, and listened. He heard the sermon, and became convicted and converted right there. Then he inquired who was the preacher, and he found out it was the very man that he said he would not hear -- the man he disliked. The very man he had been talking against was the very man God used to convert him.
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?|
There is a great deal of truth in that.
If Elisha had told him to go back to Syria on his hands and knees, one hundred and fifty miles, he would have done it and thought it was all right. If he had told him to go into some cave and stay there a year or two, he would have done it and thought it was all right. If he had told him that it was necessary to have some surgical operation performed, and that he had to go through all the torture incident to it, that would have suited him. Men like to have something to do about their salvation; they don't like to give up the idea that they can't do anything; that God must do it all. If you tell them to take bitter herbs every morning and every night for the next five years, they think that's all right, and if he had told Naaman to do that 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! But 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.
Now, don't you see yourselves there? How many men there are who are waiting for some great thing; waiting for some sudden feeling to come stealing over them; waiting for some shock to come upon them. That is not what the Lord wants. There is a man that I have talked to about his soul for a number of years, and the last time I had a talk with him, he said:
|Well, the thing hasn't struck me yet.|
I said: |What?|
|Well,| says he, |the thing hasn't struck me yet.|
|Struck you; what do you mean?|
|Well,| said he, |I go to church, and I hear you preach, and I hear other men preach, but the thing hasn't struck me yet; it strikes some people, but it hasn't struck me yet.|
That was all that I could get out of him. There are a good many men who reason in that way. They have heard some young converts tell how light dawned upon them like the flash of a meteor; how they experienced a new sensation; and so they are waiting for something of the kind. But you can't find any place in Scripture where you are told to wait for anything of the kind. You are just to obey what God tells you to do, and let your feelings take care of themselves. I can't control my feelings. I can't make myself feel good and bad when I want to, but I can obey God. God gives me the power. He doesn't command me to do something and not give me the power to do it. With the command comes the power.
Now, Naaman could do what the prophet told him; he could go down to the Jordan, and he could dip seven times; and that is what the Lord had for him to do; and if we are going to get into the kingdom of God, right at the threshold of that kingdom we have to learn this doctrine of obedience, to do whatsoever He tells us.
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? After all, you can but try it. He sends word distinctly, my lord, that your flesh shall come again as that of a little child.|
Naaman accepts this word in season. His anger is cooling down. He has got over the first flush of his indignation. He says:
|Well, I think I might as well try it.|
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.
At last Naaman's will was conquered, and he surrendered. When General Grant was besieging a town which was a 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 beleagured 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 tell us, |To obey is better than to sacrifice.|
God wants obedience. Naaman had to learn this lesson. There was no virtue, probably, in going down to the Jordan, any more than in obeying the voice of God. He had to obey the word, and
IN THE VERY ACT OF OBEDIENCE
he was blessed.
Look at those ten New Testament lepers who came to Christ. He said to them: |Go show yourselves to the priests.|
|Well,| they might have said, |what good is that going to do us? Here we are all full of leprosy, and if we go and show ourselves to the priests they will order us back again into exile. That is not going to help us.|
But those ten men started off, and did just what the Lord Jesus Christ told them to do, and in the very act of doing it they were blessed; their leprosy left them.
He said to that man that had the palsy, whom they brought to Him upon a bed: |Take up thy bed and walk.|
The man might have said: |Lord, I have been trying for years to take that bed up, but I can't. I haven't got the power. I have been shaking with the palsy for the last ten years. Do you think that if I could have rolled up that bed that I would have been brought here and let down through the roof? I haven't the power.|
But when the Lord commanded him He gave the power. Power came with the command, and that man stood up, rolled up his bed, and started off home. He was blessed in the very act of obedience.
My friends, if you want God to bless you, obey Him. Do whatsoever He calls upon you to do, and then see if He will not bless you.
Christ went to a Pharisee's house one day while He was down here upon earth, to be entertained. They wanted to get Him to do something to break the law of Moses, that they might condemn Him to death, and so they put a man right opposite to Him at the table with a withered hand, to see if He would heal upon the Sabbath day. He said to the man:
|Stretch out thy hand.|
Now, the man might have said, |Lord, that is a very strange command. I haven't got the power. That hand has been withered for the last twenty years. I haven't stretched it out for the last twenty years; and you say, 'Stretch it out.'|
But when He told him to do it He gave him the power, and out went that old withered hand, and before it came out straight, right in the very act, it was made whole. He was blessed in the very act of obedience.
Now, Naaman had to be taught the lesson that he had to obey; and so, finally, he went down to the Jordan just as he was told to do. And if you will do just what the Lord tells you the Lord will bless you as He did Naaman.
You may ask, |What does He tell me?|
|Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.|
The word of God to Naaman was to go and wash; and the word of God to every soul out of Christ is to believe on His Son. |Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.| If a man believes with all his heart on the Lord Jesus Christ, God will never bring him to judgment for sin; that is all passed -- that is all gone. Take Him at His word; believe Him; believe what He says, and you shall enter into life eternal. |He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.| HIM -- mark you -- not a dogma, not a creed,
NOT A MYTH, BUT A PERSON.
|He came to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons and daughters of God.| That is the way you get the power.
Naaman goes down to the river and takes the first dip. 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.|
The servant says: |The man of God told you to dip seven times. Do just as he told you. There is no discount on God's word.|
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. Some of 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!|
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.|
If one speck of leprosy had remained, it would have been a reflection on God.
Ask him now how he feels.
|Feel? I feel that this is the happiest day of my life. I thought when I won a great victory upon the battlefield that that was the most joyful day of my life; I thought I should never be so happy again; but that wasn't anything; it didn't compare with this hour; my leprosy is all gone, I am whole, I am cleansed.|
First he lost his temper; then he lost his pride; then his leprosy. That is generally the order in which proud, rebellious sinners are converted.
So he comes up out of Jordan and puts on his clothes, and goes back to the prophet. He was very mad with Elisha in the beginning, but when he was cleansed his anger was all gone too. He 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 Lord doesn't charge anything to save you. It is |without money and without price.| The prophet Elisha refused to take anything, and I can imagine no one felt more rejoiced than he did.
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 through faith and obedience.
Let us see 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.|
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 cleanse the leprosy.|
Then there is another thought. Naaman left only one thing in Samaria, and that was 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,| says someone, |I don't believe in sudden conversions.|
Don't you? 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, Zacchaeus, and a host of others; how long did it take the Lord to bring them about? They were effected in a minute. We are born in iniquity, shapen in it, dead in trespasses and sins; but when spiritual life comes it comes in a moment, and we are free both from sin and death.
You may be sure when he got home there was no small stir in Naaman's house. I can 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.|
They embrace each other, and pour out mutual expressions of rejoicing and gladness. The servants are just as glad as their master and mistress, as they have been waiting eagerly for the news. 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.
Once, as I was walking down the street, I heard some people laughing and talking aloud. One of them said:
|Well, there will be no difference, it will be all the same a hundred years hence.|
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. I ask you, |Where will you spend eternity? Where will you be a hundred years hence?|
I heard once of a man who went to England from the Continent, and brought letters with him to eminent physicians from the Emperor. 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.|
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.
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 53d chapter of Isaiah, |With His stripes we are healed.|
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 clear light of Calvary shone on his soul. He had settled the question in his own mind at last, where he would spend eternity. I ask you, sinner, to settle it now. 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 forever? Make haste to be wise; for |how shall we escape if we neglect so great 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, 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 far gone 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 Savior?|
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. Let every one of us, young and old, rich and poor, come to Christ at once, and He will put all our sins away. Don't wait any longer for feeling, but obey at once. You can believe, you can trust, you can lay hold on eternal life, if you will. Will you not do it now?