Salt in a New Cruse

"He tarried at Jericho … and the men of the city said to Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees: but THE WATER IS NAUGHT, AND THE GROUND BARREN. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth to the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus says the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed to this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake" (2 Kings 2:18-22).

It was a new year, and a happy one for Jericho, when Elisha went and abode there. Before then it had been THE CITY OF DISAPPOINTMENT, for the situation of it was pleasant, but — and it was the mayor of the city that made the confession — the water was naught and the ground barren. From the time that the city had been founded on the ruins of its predecessor, a curse had been on it, and its waters were tainted at the spring of them, and the land about it yielded only thorns for the labour of its people. It had not always been like that, for at one time it had been called "the city of the palm trees," but that was a matter of ancient history; and yet, with that fact on record and the feeling that there was the possibility of better things in it, for its situation was pleasant, the inhabitants had hoped and laboured — but all in vain. It is more than likely that they had reached the point of despair when Elisha, the man of God, paid his memorable visit to them. And "he tarried there," and I am sure I am not far from the truth when I say that he did so because he desired to bless the city, and he dwelt among them until they were humble enough and honest enough to tell him the predicament they were in.

Some of my readers have dwelt in the city of Jericho for a long time. Expectation and disappointment have alternated in their experience. How eagerly they have hoped for better things, how sincerely they have vowed and resolved, how earnestly they have reached out after a better and more fruitful life than they have known, but they have missed it. Yet they feel that this ought not to be. Is not man's chief end to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever, and to be supremely happy and, a blessing to others in doing it? Then why are the waters of their lives so bitter, and the land of it always barren? Let us see if we can discover the reason and find the remedy.

First — and please do not be afraid of a little doctrine, for we cannot understand the situation without it — when man was created in the image and likeness of God, he was unquestionably "the city of the palm trees"; fresh and beautiful and with unimpaired powers he was capable of bringing forth fruit for God, and of being a channel of blessing to all. But he fell from that high estate. Just as the city of Jericho set itself in defiance against God's will, so Adam deliberately and wilfully turned away from God's commandment, and in that day of folly he fell as surely as did Jericho.

It was only natural that the sons of Adam should have endeavoured to recover their lost position and powers, but they have endeavoured without God, and their labours have been in vain. The sentence of death lies upon the race, as it lay upon Hiel, the Bethelite, who rebuilt Jericho and lost his eldest son when he laid the foundation and his youngest when he finished the gates of it, his whole family under death — "for by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."

In Paul's masterly Letter to the Christians in Rome, he stresses this great doctrine in chapter 5, but when he comes to chapter 7, he shows how it works out in the life of the individual who has been awakened to what is right and desires to be what he feels God would have him be. What a history it is! What struggles! How poignant is the experience! We can almost hear the gasps and sobs of the man's soul as he is learning the bitter lesson that "the water is naught, and the land barren," until at last, realizing that his efforts are all defeated and his struggles are useless, he cries, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" And with such an experience as this in their souls and such a cry upon their lips, some of my readers have closed up the old year and begun the new.

Now a word as to Elisha, so rightly called the man of God. He was a great contrast to Elijah. Elijah represented the law and pressed its demands upon the people. He came to tell them that the Lord, He is God! and to urge His just claims, and to tell them what they ought to be and do, and because they did not yield to God His rights and were not what they ought to be, condemnation and judgment always accompanied his ministry among them. But Elisha came not demanding, but giving. He showed out the goodness of God to a wretched people. He was a dispenser of grace and mercy, and all sorts of people were blest by him; nor did he turn away any who came to him acknowledging their need. There is no greater figure in Old Testament history than Elisha, for he is pre-eminently the one who foreshadowed our Lord Jesus Christ, in His present glorious place as the Administrator of the grace of God. He is the great Deliverer, whose compassions reach down to men in their miseries and whose grace can free them, and, having freed them, is sufficient to make them more than conquerors through Him.

There was no hope for Israel in Elijah's ministry, and there is no hope in the law for us. It is "weak through the flesh," declares Paul, who knew it by experience. It cannot make us what we ought to be. It cannot change the barren land or sweeten the bitter waters; it can only expose and show up the barrenness and the bitterness and condemn us. It has done so already: we lie under its sentence if we have invoked its aid. It is when we have reached that point in our soul history, that we are ready for the truth of Elisha and the salt in the new cruse.

I like the man who spoke for the delegation that waited on the prophet; there was a directness and brevity about his speech. He made no apology for their condition and did not hide it; he stated the case in a few blunt words and waited. He did not even say what they would like the prophet to do. He felt that it was enough to tell him the need. It was enough, and his confidence in Elisha was met by an instant answer of grace and blessing. And, mark it well, it was Jericho, the one cursed city in the land, that got the blessing. Elijah had been to that city and left it as he found it, and the inhabitants of it do not seem to have cared to appeal to him; but while Elisha tarried among them they must have been encouraged to approach him by his words and ways. He was the man, surely, to whom they could go, for he seemed so accessible, so sympathetic, so attractive. And thus did he foreshadow our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have been to Him in their distress can all bear witness to the fact that He is gracious.

There are no more blessed words in the Bible than those in John 1:14-17, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth … and of His fullness have all we received, and grace for (upon) grace. For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by (subsist in) Jesus Christ." How wonderful was the love that brought Him down to us and to tarry with us in the barren lives and world in which we lived, not to demand from us and force the claims of the law upon us, or to condemn us for our iniquities and sins, but to save us. "For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be Saved." He came in grace; He was full of it. He came to give; we have no need to listen to another talking of Him in order to learn this, for He has told us Himself, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that says to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water" (John 4:10). "Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37-38). He came with the new cruse, which was grace. The truth in the old cruse, which was the law, could only condemn us, for the blessings of which it did speak could only be gained and held by absolute and continual obedience to its commands, and its curse rested upon all who continued not in all things that were written in it to do them; but the truth in the new cruse brought nothing but blessing, for it was the declaration that God is love, and that His love was bent upon blessing men.

No illustration, not even those that are divinely given, can nearly equal the truth, and these Old Testament stories were but the shadows of good things to come and not the very image of them. The good things have come now, the substance has appeared and that substance is Christ. He has done for us what Elisha never could have done for those men of Jericho, for "He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." How great was the love that moved Him thus! and as we meditate on such a statement of the truth as this, do not we feel constrained to say, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME." And again, "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh," and this happened that there might be no more "death or barren land," but that "the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8).

Yes, the truth (which is salt indeed) as to what we are and what God is, has been brought to us in surpassing grace. It is "the grace of God that brings salvation"; and as it comes into our souls we realize our own barrenness, and how utterly beyond all hope of improvement the flesh is, for in it good does not dwell, and we turn from it and cast ourselves completely upon Christ. Then the truth that we have often read in the Word, but never received into our souls, becomes at last living to us and in us. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8). And now deliverance from barrenness and death lies in cultivating the flesh no more, but in honestly confessing that there is no good thing in it, and in turning to Christ who bore its condemnation for us when He was made a sacrifice for sin. We know that He was raised again from the dead, for it is part of the truth of the gospel which we have believed, and for us this means justification from all our offences (Rom. 4:25). It is grace that has justified us from the guilty past, but upon this absolutely sure and righteous basis, so that the question of our guilt will never be raised again. And that same grace transfers us from the old Adam life, that lies under condemnation and death and could bring forth no fruit, to Christ, our risen Saviour, and it is thus that where sin abounded, grace does much more abound (Rom. 5:20), that now being made free from sin, and having become the servants of God, we might have our fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life (Rom. 6:22).

But that is not all, for we read, "It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Rom. 8:34). He died that we might be justified; He lives and intercedes that we might live as justified people. But it is all Himself — the truth is in Jesus. It has come to us in wonderful grace and it is this that changes everything and enables us to close the chapter of earnest resolutions and bitter disappointments and open the new one of perfect rest in our Lord Jesus Christ and fruitfulness to God, His Father, and blessing to others.

And the city of Jericho became "the city of the palm trees" once more (2 Chr. 28:15), and there the naked were clothed and the hungry were fed, and the feeble were helped, and there long-separated brethren were united again and the people were obedient to the Word of God. So it shall be with every one of us who turn wholly to the Lord and cleave to Him with purpose of heart. The grace that began with our salvation will not fail us; it is sufficient for our whole lives in every phase of them. And while it teaches us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world, it assures us of a new year (Ex. 12) of liberty, fruitfulness, and blessing, and such a year must be as happy as it is new.