The Child of Resurrection

2 Kings 4:8-37.

Every child of faith in past dispensations, as well as in the present, may be truly termed a child of resurrection. God, whose voice faith hears, and who is Himself its object, is the One "who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were." (Rom. 4:17.) Of this our father Abraham is the great example. But examples of this abound in the Old Testament - examples, too, similar in circumstances, as well, as in principle, to that of Abraham. Manoah and his wife, Hannah the wife of Elkanah, and, not to mention others, this godly woman in the history before us, were each of them examples in their day of the allquickening power of that God in whom they believed. Their faith might not be strong, like that of Abraham; but it had (like his) for its object the power, and for its warrant the word, of "God, who quickeneth the dead." And so now, every poor sinner who through grace receives God's testimony to His Son believes in Him "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:25.) Yea, and "by Him" (Jesus) all such "do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." (1 Peter 1:21.) Christ risen and glorified, and God who raised and glorified Him, are thus the objects of our faith; yea, and more than that, the very faith which does thus rest on Christ and believe in God, who raised Him from the dead, is itself the result of the quickening power of the Holy Ghost. It is "the faith of the operation of God." (Col 2:12.) Us "hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph, 2:1); so that, in every sense, and that from the very outset, the child of faith is the child of resurrection.

But the God of resurrection, thus known to faith from the first, has to be known as such all through. Blessings which, when we receive them, are felt to come not from any resources of our own - nay, nor through any natural power we possess - but direct from Him "who quickeneth the dead," when we have enjoyed them for a season, come to be regarded by us as things of course; we fail to realise that the tenure on which we hold them, as well as the ground on which we received them, is the resurrection power of God. Hence many of those dealings of God with us, by which wee are brought to sympathise with Paul when he said, "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which. came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us." (2 Cor. 1:8-10.) Is not this the lesson, brethren beloved, which our God designs that we should learn from all that has occurred? When our souls first drank of the deep joy of fellowship in the Spirit, was it not in direct and conscious dependence on the resurrection power of God? Was not the flesh, the old man, accounted by us, even as it is accounted of God, crucified with Christ? Was there not, as the fruit of this, the practical denial of all the resources of nature, of self in its fairest forms, as competent in any way to worship or serve God acceptably? And was there not a simplicity of dependence on Him who, having given His Son for us, and given us to His Son, had given us besides, as the seal of His. love, that Holy Spirit the Comforter, by whom we were conscious of being vitally united to Christ, and made members one of another? Was there not, I ask, a simplicity of reliance on His presence, on His teaching, on His power, as that by which alone there could be wrought in us or amongst us what would glorify our God, or refresh and edify one another? But when he had thus wrought, and we had tasted a joy which many of us had never expected on this side the glory, was there not a transfer - gradual, and so almost imperceptible, but not less certain - of our confidence from Him whose presence gave this joy, to the joy which His presence gave, and to all its varied fruits in the happy worship and living service of those amongst whom He had thus manifested Himself? Did there not creep in a looking upon these things as a matter of course, without the continued and deepening recognition of the source from whence they flowed to us poor saved sinners, and of the power by which alone they could be maintained and increased amongst us? And why the blighting which has followed? Is it that our God would resume what His royal bounty had freely bestowed? No; "His gifts and calling are without repentance." But He would have us learn that we can no more retain than obtain blessings of ourselves; that we can no more keep out death than we could at first rescue ourselves from its dominion; that it is with God, who quickeneth the dead, that we have to do; that it is Him, and Him alone, we have to trust. Happy for our souls, beloved, if we should be taught this lesson. Bitter and humbling as may be the process through which our God conducts us, the lesson of resurrection twice learned will more than repay all the sorrow of learning it; and what is of infinitely greater consequence, our God will have all the glory, all the praise. But let us turn to the narrative. There are sweet truths unfolded in it besides this great one; for which doubtless it is specially recorded.

To trace the family likeness among God's people is a refreshing and heart-cheering exercise. Nor does it in the least derogate from His glory, whose "workmanship" the saint is, to observe in Scripture the marks by which His "workmanship" is distinguished. Works, except they be the result of faith, the fruit of the Spirit, are worthless, and worse than worthless; but the work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, are precious in God's eyes; and it is for our profit to meditate on the records of such in God's holy word. A lovely specimen of the workmanship of the Spirit is presented to us in the Shunammite, whose faith, with its fruits, trials, and triumphs, forms the subject of the narrative before us.

One fruit of faith much commended in Scripture is that enjoined upon us in such passages as the following: "Given to hospitality." (Rom. 12:13.) "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." (1 Peter 4:9.) "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb. 13:2.) "I was a stranger, and ye took me in." (Matt. 25:35.) What a beautiful instance of such hospitality is presented to us here. "And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread." The lowly husbandman of Abel-Meholah, a welcome guest with the "great woman" of Shunem, is a lovely illustration of what grace can do. Nor did she know, as it would appear, anything of him when she first "constrained him to eat read," save the homely garb, the unpretending exterior of the man.

Another fruit of faith, much noted in Scripture, is the capacity of discerning and owning "like precious faith" in others. Its very first exercise is discernment - discernment of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. When He was here upon the earth, while He was faith's object, so was He God's great test of where there was faith and where there was not. Where there was not faith, His person and his glory were unknown and unconfessed; where there was faith it perceived, through the veil of His humiliation, the glory that it enshrined, and confessed Him as the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. To as many as thus received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God. So now, whosoever is quickened by the Holy Ghost to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, in beholding that, receives the assurance of salvation and everlasting life. But the same faith that beholds the glory of God in its fulness there can discern its transmitted and reflected rays in those of whom it is said, "Ye are the epistle of Christ;" of whom Christ Himself says, "Ye are the light of the world." This capacity of discernment exists, of course, in very various measures, as faith is strong or weak. But more or less of it there must be in order to "love as brethren." Plainly, I must discern who are my brethren, or I cannot love them as such. Who could give a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a disciple, if he had not the capacity of discerning the badge of discipleship? Beautiful is the display of this spiritually intuitive discernment of where God had set His mark and put His honour, in the case of this godly Shunammite. She had shown him hospitality as a stranger, "as oft as he passed by afterwards, he turned in to eat bread;" but in these repeated interviews she saw enough of him to make her long on other and higher grounds to provide for him more permanent accommodation. "She said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick; and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither." The Lord grant us, beloved, to be so in communion with Himself, that wherever His name is truly confessed, and His Spirit dwells, we may be quick to discern and joyful to own His handiwork.

The Shunammite's appreciation of the tastes and habits of her guests, is another lovely trait which the Spirit has been pleased to note in this delineation of her ways. It was Martha's failure, that while she really and devotedly loved the Lord, she so little appreciated what His glory really was, and the errand on which He had come from heaven to earth, that she thought to please Him by providing for Him a sumptuous feast. To think of entertaining God manifest in the flesh with a feast! Not so Mary. She knew that He had come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and to give His life a ransom for many. She spread the table, and provided the feast that He had really come for the purpose of enjoying, by sitting at His feet, and opening her heart to drink in the words of eternal life from His lips. Likeminded with her was this godly Shunammite. She had Martha's hospitality with Mary's appreciation of her guest; and her guest was but a mortal, a child of God indeed, but still a mortal man. Martha's and Mary's guest was the Lord from heaven. Elisha has a hearty welcome to the hospitalities of the Shunammite; there is even an apartment set aside for his use, where he may turn in and tarry as long as he will. But what a tale does its furniture tell! No provision for the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life. A. bed, a table, a stool, and a candlestick, are what it contains. A pilgrim's accommodation shows how entirely the Shunammite had appreciated the pilgrim character of her guest. Would that there were more of this heavenly simplicity amongst us, beloved. Would that our hearts were so in heaven, that we might feel, as to one another, that even our hospitality must be after a godly sort; cordial, lame hearted, without grudging, as the apostle says; but yet, not as though we looked upon each other as in the flesh, or thought we could gratify one another by making provision for its lusts.

"Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have," is the exhortation of the apostle. How the spirit of it was exemplified by the Shunammite. Elisha instructs Gehazi to say to her, "Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care, what is to be done for thee? Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?" God had wrought a great deliverance by Elisha for the king and his allies but a short time before; and thus, for the season, he could doubtless have had of the king whatever he had asked. But the Shunammite wishes for nothing that the king or the captain of the host can give. "I dwell among mine own people," was the reply of her contented spirit. Can we, in any way, so powerfully testify to the world of its vanity, and the emptiness of all its offers? If anything can tell on the conscience of a worldling, it is to see a child of God so conscious of his portion in his Father's love, that he declines, when it is in his power, to accept of a portion here.

But if the prophet of Abel-Meholah, like an apostle of later days, be destitute of silver and gold; and if the Shunammite cares not for what Elisha's temporary favour with the king might have procured her, he has interest at another court, and she refuses not what the prophet promises on behalf of that "God who quickeneth the dead, and calleth things which be not as though they were." She is childless, and her husband is old; but the prophet assures her that at the set time she shall embrace a son. The promise thus given, God fulfils; and a child, direct from His hand, crowns the faith which had already produced such lovely fruits. What that child must have been to the Shunammite. With what inexpressible tenderness must she have nursed him in infancy, and watched the unfolding of his faculties, as from infancy he passed to boyhood, and from that to youth. The mother only that loves the Lord, and nurses and brings up her offspring for Him, can form the least idea, and even hers must be but faint, of what that mother's feelings were; the deep throbbings of her heart, as she looks onward to the future in connection with the prospects of her child; and the calm but deeper joy which must have often pervaded and filled her heart, while encouraged by the occasion and circumstances of his birth, she trusted in God that that future was charged with blessing. But she had to learn the lesson already referred to, as the great moral of the history; and well will it be for us, if God's record of His dealings with her should be used of Him to aid us in learning that lesson too.

"And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died." What a stroke was this! The child with the birth - of which her faith had been crowned, and which she had received, as it were, direct from God's hand, snatched from her embraces, and cold in death. And was this God's reward of the care which He had put into her heart to have for His servant, the prophet? Was it for this that God made Himself known as the quickener of the dead, causing the barren to bear, only that when the child was born, he might be suddenly torn away? No, she has better thoughts of God than this. It is not that she questions His right to resume what His mercy had bestowed. But her faith gathers from the past what God's meaning and purpose were in dealing with her as He had done, and she is not without hope even now. "But her son is dead." What then? It was from God, who quickeneth the dead, she had received her son. "But what can she do?" Nay, that is not the question. What can, or rather, what can not God do? That is faith's question; and thus there is no case too extreme for faith, because there is none too extreme for God. Faith knows and trusts. "With God all things are possible."

A brother once wrote me - "Faith rejoices in a dead life." And so it is. Circumstances which produce utter despondency where there is not faith, are but to faith the occasion for more singly and entirely trusting God. "And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again." The husband remonstrates. It is neither the new moon, nor the Sabbath-day; and his faith goes not beyond the ordinary exercises of devotion, if indeed he be a man of faith at all. Faith like his wife's, who does not give up her son though dead, because she knows Him who quickeneth the dead, he seems to have no thought of. But his wife can neither be detained nor turned aside. "It shall be well," is all the reply she makes, and hastens to the man of God to Carmel.

But here she is to meet with other trials of her faith. If there was any one or any thing in danger of being between her soul and God, it was the prophet, the man of God. To own him as the prophet of God was indeed at that time the test of faith in Israel. Singularly had God honoured him in fulfilling his promise, in God's behalf, that this woman should have a son. But it was possible then - as, alas! we find it now - for the channel, more or less, to have the place with the soul, which only belongs to the source from whence it is supplied. At all events, the Shunammite is to learn that even the man of God of himself can do nothing for her. To all the enquiries of Gehazi she has but one answer "Well;" she is not to be detained by him. "And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me." One word from her reveals the whole, and the prophet at once despatches Gehazi with his master's staff to lay upon the face of the child. Whether the prophet did this under divine guidance for a lesson to Gehazi, as well as to try the Shunammite's faith, or whether, as the case had been hid from him by the Lord, so now he was left to act in his own wisdom and strength without any direct guidance from God, I would not say. It is suggested as an inquiry for the prayerful consideration of brethren in the Lord. In either case the result is plain. The Shunammite can no more be put off with Gehazi and his master's staff than before she could be detained by her husband's expostulations or Gehazi's enquiries. "And the mother of the child said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her." They meet Gehazi returning from his fruitless journey - one of a cloud of witnesses that the forms and circumstances by which the actings of faith may be attended are all nothing apart from faith itself and the power of the living God, on which faith rests. Elisha's staff in Gehazi's hands is as powerless as any other piece of wood. The prophet's staff without the prophet's faith accomplishes nothing. "There was neither voice nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked." The Lord grant us to lay to heart the serious lesson which these words convey.

What a scene ensues! There had been enough already to make even Elisha feel. that it was no ordinary case, and that through it God was dealing with him as well as with the Shunammite. That it should have been hid entirely from him, that Gehazi's journey with the staff (undertaken at, the prophet's instance), should have proved entirely unavailing, was enough to awaken the enquiry in the soul of the prophet whether God would teach him, too, that the power was not in Him, but in God Himself. But even if Elisha had to learn this lesson more deeply than he had as yet learned, it was not that his faith in God might be shaken or weakened, but tried and strengthened. Tried it was, but not shaken. "When Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed." The mother's faith had placed the dead body there. "He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord." The prophet, a dead corpse, and the living God, the Quickener of the dead! "And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child." So completely does he identify himself with the one for whom he intercedes; it is as though he would tell God that if the child were not restored to life he could only lie there with him in death. What faith! what holy boldness! Nor is it left without encouragement. "The flesh of the child waxed warm." There were some signs of returning vitality to strengthen the prophet's faith and encourage him to persevere. "Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him." What is all this the witness of, but of that agony of prayer, that energy of faith, of which - alas! in our day and in our poor souls - we know so little? But "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." "The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes." Prayer was heard; faith was crowned. God showed Himself once more to be in very truth the God of resurrection. And when the mother came in to the prophet into the chamber he said, "Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet. [her heart too full to utter a single word], and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out."

The Lord grant us, like her, to know nothing, to regard nothing, but Himself, privileged as we are to know Him, the Resurrection and the Life, unknown to saints in any former dispensation, in an intimacy of communion. May we acknowledge indeed and mourn the sins which have turned our joy into lamentation; but may neither these nor anything be allowed to hide from the view of faith "God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth things which be not as though they were."