G. B. F. (Gerard Benjamin Fleet) Hallock.

The English pulpit : collection of sermons online

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only was he more distinguished for the number of his miracles, but that
he made greater progress in the unreserved consecration of himself to
God. There is, moreover, reason for thinking that Elisha was more
successful than Elijah had been in reclaiming the Israelites from the
worship of Baal. You will recollect that in his fit of despondency,
Elijah had complained that he stood quite alone, that there was none
but himself to take the side of the Lord. He was utterly wrong in
this opinion ; for God said, " Yet have I left me seven thousafxti in
Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth
which hath not kissed him." But seven thousand was a very small
remnant ; idolatry must still have had a vast preponderance on i'-s side,
if seven thousand were all the worshippers of Jehovah. But you find
that when Jehu, who was raised up twelve years after, proceeded by a
sort of plot to the destroying the idolaters among his people, he was
able to entice them into one house or temple ; so that their number
must have differed greatly from what it had been a few years before.
We know, also, that Elisha continued his labors for at least forty-five
years after the beginning of the reign of Jehu ; and though his name
is never once mentioned throughout this long period, we may justly
suppose that he was as zealous as before, and perhaps not less .success-
ful, in turning away his countrymen from idolatry. He did noc, indeed,
prevail to the reclaiming their hearts as a nation unto the Lord, from
whom they had revolted ; but he would seem to have been far more
instrumental than Elijah to the conversion of individuals. God so


honored his protracted labors, that multitudes far outnumbering, in all
probahility, the seven thousand in the days of Elijah, were either
secretly or openly in the ranks of those ^Yho preferred Jehovah to Baal.
And thus eminent as were both these servants of the Lord, it were
almost difficult not to regard Elisha as the more eminent of the two,
and the more likely to have been singled out for special marks of the
favor of Heaven. Let us put it to you to decide, from what is related
of the two, which might be the more expected to receive at God's hands
extraordinary tokens of acceptance ; and it is only supposing that you
will decide by the common rules which must regulate human judgments,
if, considering the superior number of recorded miracles, and that also
of reclaimed idolaters, we conclude, that you will look to find in the
history of Elisha, rather than in that of Elijah, especial evidence that
the prophet had found acceptance in the eyes of the Lord.

But now let us pass from our own conjectures or suppositions, to the
actual facts in the case. We have two very different scenes to bring
before you. We take you first to the brink of the Jordan, where there
is about to occur one of the most marvellous events that ever befel a
being of our race. There are two prophets conversing together on the
bank of the river. Suddenly, whilst they are yet talking, lo ! a chariot
of fire, drawn by horses of fire, descends from heaven — equipage such
as, perhaps, mortal eye had never gazed upon before ; a scene too
strangely spiritual for mortal mind to contemplate. Yet it is for a man,
for one of those two seers, that this celestial equipage is sent, that
comes down in its awful effulgence to convey to the upper world, without
allowing him to pass through the scene of death, the elder of the
prophets on whom we have gazed. Oh, wondrously favored man !
He is not, indeed, the first to whom has been awarded exemption from
the sentence provoked by disobedience. In an earlier dispensation,
Enoch was translated so as not to see death ; although we know not if
it were under the same circumstances of visible pomp, that this seventh
from Adam exchanged earth for heaven. But if the prophet did not
first receive this extraordinary distinction, it is difficult to imagine how
one of our race could have been signally honored. We must return
from the sight penetrated with amazement, and ready with our acknowl-
edgment, that God hath given him such a token of his favor and
acceptance, as — with reverence be it said — even God liimself might
hardly surpass.

But now we take you to a wholly diflferent scene. An emaciated old
man is before us, stretched on his bed, patiently awaiting death, which,
to judge from the too evident signs of age and infirmity, cannot be far
distant. There are- no indications here of the equipage of flame :


though something of unearthly fire lights up the old man's eye, as he
is led to predict his country's victory over the Assyrians. It is the
prophet on whom fell the mantle of the ascending seer, who lies before
us in all the feebleness of approaching dissolution. Years after years
have passed, since that wondrous event at the brink of the Jordan ;
and now he who was appointed in the stead of him who went up in the
chariot of fire, is about to follow him to the invisible world, that he, too,
may rest from his toils. But what a difierence is there in the manner
and circumstances of the departure ! Is it possible even to imagine a
greater contrast ? In the one case, there is a suspension of all the
ordinary laws. There is no death, no wasting and wearing down of
the faculties ; in a moment, and with the utmost splendor of miracle,
the servant of the Lord passes, body and soul, into heavenly places, as
though he had not been a child of Adam, or as though Adam had not
tasted of the fatal fruit. In the other case, not only are the ordinary
laws not suspended, they seem to be carried into force with every
distressing accompaniment. There is continued and pining sickness ;
there is the gradual decay of strength ; there is that hard and heavy
lot, when " the earthly house of this tabernacle " is taken down bit by
bit, and the most patient are sorely exercised by the slowness of the
process. Ah ! what a contrast between the chariot of fire, and the
decrepitude of old age ; between the horses of fire, and the pains of
corroding disease. And which, then, is the prophet who ascended so
marvellously to heaven, and which the prophet who was to go hence
■with so lingering a step ? You have already looked at the recorded
actions of the two, and, feeling that Elisha seems to have exceeded
Elijah in ihe wonders which he wrought, and the converts Avhich he
made, you expect that if God have a signal mark of favor to bestow,
it will be given to him who seems to have done the most to advance the
cause of truth. In other words, had we merely given you the regis-
tered actions of the two, and then placed before you, without naming
the parties, the two departures into the invisible world, and asked you
to tell us which you should conclude to be that of Elijah, and which
chat of Elisha, there is not, perhaps, one of you who would have
assigned to Elijah the equipage of flame, and to Elisha the slow process
of decay. Whereas, such poor judges are men of the designs and
dealings of God, that it was for Elijah that the chariot of fire and the
horses of fire swept down from the firmament, and it is of Elisha that
it is said, in the touching language of the text, that he was " fallen sick
of his sickness whereof he died."

Now we do not mean, by thus comparing the recorded action of
Elijah and EHsha, to decide that the one prophet was more excellent


than the other ; and far less do we mean, by comparing the circumstan-
ces of their departure out of life, to intimate that God's dealings with
these his servants were not in accordance with their several characters.
We are speaking only of what may be called the appearances of the
case, and of the conclusions at which, arguing merely from those
appearances, we should be likely to arrive. And certainly Ave hardly
know a more remarkable contrast, nor one more fitted to engage a
thoughtful mind, than that between the translation of Elijah, and the
sickness of Elisha. Though there is not much told us of the sickness
of Elisha, you can hardly fail to infer, from the language of our text,
that it Avas a lingering sickness. " Elisha was fallen sick of his sick-
ness whereof he died." Evidently he did not die suddenly. He was
visited on his sick bed by Joash, the king of Israel, and we have no
reason to suppose that Joash Avas a man likely to be forAvard in shoAving
respect for the servant of God. And it strikes us as a pathetic circum-
stance, so far as Elisha himself was concerned, that Joash, in visiting
the dying prophet, addressed him Avith the words, " my father, my
father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." For these
were the very words Avhich Elisha had uttered, when Elijah was parted
from him, and went up in a whirlwind into heaven. " Elisha saAV it,
and he cried, ]\Iy father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the
horsemen thereof." Now must not this quotation of his OAvn Avords
have most poAverfully reminded Elisha of the translation of Elijah,
fixing on him the remembrance of the occasion on Avliich they had been
used by himself, and suggesting the difference betAveen it and the
occasion on Avhich they Avere noAV being used to himself ? There is no
reason to suppose that Joash purposely used the same Avords ; for the
expression may have been a proverbial one, and frequently employed
on the occasion of the falling of a great leader. But as Elisha lay
there in his old age, and a king bent over him and breathed the Avords,
" My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof,"
it would indeed be difficult to believe that the mind of the dying prophet
did not recall the wondrous scene on the brink of the Jordan, that there
did not pass before him the chariot of fire and the horses of fire, and
that he did not for a moment, though not in a comf)laining, yet in an
Inquiring spirit, revolve the difference between Elijah's departure and
his OAvn. And, Avhatever may have been the feelings of Ehsha himself,
there is, as we have said, much to think of, and much to learn, if we
simply set before us Elijah and Elisha as at least equally eminent in
the service of God, and then behold the one translated Avithout seeing
death, Avhilst the other is left to all the lingering processes of old age
and decay. It is a sort of contrast which is still often seen, if not


definitely traced, yet sufficiently marked to attract attention and to
excite wonder. For there is a vast apparent diiference between God's
dealings with his servants, with those who, according to their opportu-
nities, seem to be equally earnest in the great duties of obedience and
faith. You shall observe that one is suddenly arrested in the midst of
a high career of usefulness ; that, without being worn out by age, or
worn down by protracted disease, he is quickly, and with every demon-
stration of victory and of triumph, borne away from the earth to the
presence of God. So visibly, we might almost say, does the Christian
pass into the heavenly abode, that you can only liken the removal to
that of Elijah, and survivors will speak of the chariot of fire and the
horses of fire, as though, in burning pomp, the equipage had been seen
in the chamber of sickness. But you shall observe that another,
eminent also as a servant of God, is left to become infirm and decrepit,
to be broken up gradually through the inroads of age, or consumed by
pining sickness, so that for months, and perhaps even years, he is
confined to his room, and incapacitated for every kind of active employ-
ment. And friends cannot here speak of the translation of Elijah.
There is nothing in the circumstances of this slow and toilsome departure,
which can be brought into the remotest comparison with the rapture of him
who went up in the whirlwind. The original sentence has here taken
effect in all its severity, so far as the body is concerned, and though bright
thoughts may be shedding themselves through the mind, and the failing
spirit sustain itself with a hope which is " full of immortality," the taking
down of " the earthly house of this tabernacle " is but the continued
and mournful exhibition of the humiliating truth, " Dust thou art, and
unto dust thou shalt return." Yes, but because this case of departure
out of life is so widely different from the former, is there anything to
wonder at, much more is there anything to murmur at ? Are we to
infer, are we for a moment to suspect, that he who is left to linger,
must be less prepared to die or less approved of God, than one who
goes hence as though borne upon angels' wings ? Nay, this were
indeed an unwarranted inference or an injurious suspicion. Who will
presume to think that Elisha was less righteous than Elijah, that he
had been less obedient to God, or had done less in his service ? Scrip-
ture, as we have seen, seems carefully to set itself against any such
opinion, by enumerating more of the actions and successes of Elisha
than of Elijah ; and yet Elisha died the lingering death, while Elijah
left the earth in the chariot of fire. Blessed be God that both cases
are recorded. I can now go to the sick room, where a Christian, on
whom the summons of departure hence has come unexpectedly, whilst
yet he was pursuing a course of undiminished usefulness, is visibly


trampling upon death, and to whose ejes it may be said that heaven is
already opened, in such vigor is that faith which is " the substance of
things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I can tell friends
and relatives that mourning should be lost in thankfulness. Does not
the departure of Elisha remind them of the rapture of Elijah ; and
would they shed tears over the chariot of fire ? But I can pass then
to another sick room, where an aged Christian is lingering weariedly
through days of pain and nights of watching. Oh ! Avhat a contrast
is here. There is, perhaps, dejection. It is a sore exercise of patience,
both to the suflFerer himself, and to those who are ministering to him,
that his removal from amongst the living is by a slow process ; and
perhaps the feeling is, that he cannot be ready for his removal, that
notwithstanding his long life of piety, corruption must have had a more
than commonly strong hold upon him, else would there never have been
so protracted a dismissal. He possibly knows that I have just left the
chamber where death is experiencing so signal a defeat, and it does
but give him a melancholy view of his own case, that it should thus be
forced into contrast with one so glorious and triumphant. " Ay," he
will say, " you do not find here the chariot of fire and the horses of
fire. You have been with Elijah on the border of Jordan, but there is
no Elijah here, no saint so ripe for immortality, that angels stand ready
with expanded wings to bear him to the mansions above. Alas ! for
the depraved heart which takes so much longer in being purified.
Alas ! for that desperate sinfulness which is not to be eradicated, but
by extraordinary and lingering corrections." " Nay, my brother," is
the fitting reply, " write not bitter things against thyself, as if
protracted sickness and debility were necessarily any evidence of an
unfitness to die, or of a more than common share of evil to be mastered
within. True, I have just left the river's brink on which Elijah stands,
but I have come to the bed on which Elisha lies, and Scripture draws
no injurious comparison between Elijah and Ehsha. If it furnish
material for a comparison at all, the preference seems to lie with the
pi'ophet who lingered on the bed, and not with him who went up in the
whirlwind. Then be of good cheer. The old infirm man who is left
till he might almost think himself forgotten, may be as dear to God,
ay, and as fit for his presence, as the younger who seems about to step
visibly into the chariot of fire. The flaming equipage came down for
Elijah ; Elisha remained to be worn away by toil. " Then he fell sick
of the sickness whereof he died ; " but the same words, and with th%
same truth, attended each prophet on his departing from the earth,
" My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof."
Now there is one point involved in these general statements, on which


■we would speak to you with somewhat greater distinctness. It seems
often, as we have hinted, to excite surprise, both in the sufferer himself
and in others, when a Christian who has long been eminent for piety,
and whose faith has been conspicuous in his works, lingers for months,
perhaps even years, in wearisome sickness, as though, notwithstandmg
the preparations of a righteous life, he needed protracted trial to fit
him for the presence of God. The secret supposition is, that a Chris-
tian ought to die as soon as he is quite ready to die, and that, conse-
quently, if there be lengthened sickness, so that a man dies by inches,
it must be inferred that he requires a more than ordinary disciphne,
corruption having been stronger in him than in most, and therefore not
to be subdued, but by processes more than usually protracted and
severe. But, now, what is precisely meant by a Christian being ready
to die ? Is it merely meant that he is in such a state that, were he to
die, he would go to heaven ? Then, surely, lie must be in that state,
in the majority of cases, long before he actually dies. At least, there
must be as good I'eason for believing him in that state long before death,
as at the moment of death ; whenever death comes to a sincere believer in
Christ, if it surprise him not in unrepented sin, we have the same reason
for a meek though a confident hope that he had been removed home to
that " rest which remaineth for the people of God." And, as to look-
ing on long sickness as that which is gradually to purify the soul, the
dismissal of that soul from the body being deferred till a certain point
of purification has been reached, and taking place immediately on that
point being gained, why this is really little better than the Papal
doctrine of purgatory, only that the Protestant puts it before death,
and the Romanist after. No doubt sickness, hke any other trial, is
instrumental, under God, to the ends of moral discipline, to the exer-
cising and perfecting of the various graces of the Christian. But am
I to suppose that the Christian who is confined for weeks or months to
his bed or his room, would not have gone to heaven had he died without
this tedious suffering; that this tedious suffering is appointed him,
because there is so much of which to cleanse and disburden his
conscience, so much more than in numbers who pass without such sore
trial into the invisible world ? God forbid that we should maintain a
supposition so unjustifiable and so uncharitable. Shall I presume to
think that Ellsha was not fit to die when Elijah was translated, or that
the " sickness whereof he died," was appointed him as necessary to
his being fitted for death ? Not so. There is, we believe, altogether
a mistake in the view commonly taken of old age and lingering illness.
Because a man is confined to his room or his bed, the idea seems to be
that he is altogether useless ; that, in the ordinary phrase, he is quite


laid bj, as though he had no duties to perform, when he could no
longer perform those of more active life. Was there ever a greater
mistake ? The sick room, the sick bed, has its special, its appropriate
duties, duties to the full as difficult, as honorable, as remunerating, as
any which devolve upon the Christian whilst yet in his unbroken
strength. They are not precisely the same duties as belong to the
man in health ; but they diflfer only by such degrees as change of
circumstances and condition will always produce. The patience which
he has to cultivate, the resignation which he has to exhibit, the faith
which he has to exercise, the example which he has to set, — Oh 1 talk
not of a sick man as a man laid by. Harder deeds, ay, and it may be
deeds of more extensive usefulness, are required from him who lingers
on the couch, than from many a leader in the highest and the most
laborious of Christian undertakings. Is there any cause for surprise,
if the Christian be left to linger long in sickness, to wear away tedious
months in racking pain or slow decay ? Nay, as good cause would
there be for surprise, that a Christian were not sooner removed from
active duties, that strength is continued to him year after year, for the
particular work assigned him by God. Why should it be more surpri-
sing that God keeps one man for a long, time to the duties of the sick
room, than that he keeps another man for a long time to the duties of
public Hfe ? Each class of duties contributes to the glory of God and
the welfare of man ; to each class is annexed high recompense, and to
each appertains no ordinary usefulness. Our portion in eternity will
be determined by the progress here made in holiness ; and is not sick-
ness, by the peculiar nature of its duties, even more fitted than health
for maturing us in hohness ? Shall we, then, wonder if one whom God
loves linger long in sickness, when every moment this sickness may be
fitting him for a brighter crown above ? I do not speak of mere fitness
to enter heaven. Heaven presents variety of portion, as " one star
diflfereth from another star in glory ; " and if superior holiness prepare
for superior blessedness, why think it stranger that God should leave
one of his servants to grow holier in sickness, than that he should leave
another to grow holier in health, which, of the two, is generally less
congenial with inward piety and devotedness. Besides, it is they who
" turn many to righteousness," that are to " shine as the stars of the
firmament." And is there no sermon from a sick bed ? Has the sick
man nothing to do with publishing and adorning the gospel ? Nay, I
think that an awful, a perilous trust, is committed to the sick Christian.
Friends, children, neighbors, the Church at large, look to him for some
practical exhibition of the worth of Christianity. If he be fretful, or
irritable, or full of doubts and fears, they will say, " Is this all that the


gospel can do for man in a season of extremity ? " If, on the other
hand, he be meek and resigned, and able to testify to God's faithfulness
to his word, they will be taught, and nothing teaches like example, that
Christianity can make good its pretensions, that it is a sustaining,
elevating, death-conquering religion. And who shall calculate what
may be wrought through such practical exhibitions of the power and
the preciousness of the gospel ? I, for one, will not dare to affirm that
more is done towards converting the careless, confirming the wavering,
or comforting the dying, by the bold champion who labors publicly at
making known Christianity, than by the worn down invalid, who
preaches to a household or a neighborhood by unruffled patience, and
simple, unquestioning dependence upon God. I, for one, can believe
that he who dies a death of triumph, passing almost visibly, whilst yet
in the exercise of every energy, from a high post of usefulness into the
kingdom of glory, may have fewer at the judgment to witness to the
success of his labors, than many a bed-ridden Christian, who is waiting
year after year, in the beautiful quietness of a godly submission, his
summons to depart. I know not that the brilliant translation of Elijah
did as much for Israel as the lingering dissolution of Elisha. It was from
the-sick bed, and not from the chariot of fire, that there went forth
" the arrow of the Lord's deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance
from Assyria." At all events, God made use of both these servants,
made use of them, we mean, in the very act of their departure from
life, so that nothing is to be inferred from the difference in the depar-
ture, but a difference in the Divine purpose, and not a difference in the
Divine favor. Elijah was translated, we may believe, not merely, nor
even mainly, as a mark of God's preference of himself, but to give a
signal evidence of the truths of resurrection and immortality, and thus
to deliver to his nation, as well as to the world, instruction upon points
but dimly known, though of the highest possible importance and interest.
And Elisha was left, we may venture to assume, not because he was
unworthy of so glorious and triumphant a removal, and required for
his own preparation the processes of more lengthened trial, but because
his remaining might be instrumental to the turning numbers from idol-

Online LibraryG. B. F. (Gerard Benjamin Fleet) HallockThe English pulpit : collection of sermons → online text (page 30 of 45)