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They addressed him with tokens of respect. They did not bluntly rebuke him, but modestly expostulated with him. To reprove the faults and expose the errors of our friends, of our superiorsespecially, if they be men of hasty tempers, is a delicate office. We must approach them cautiously, and touch them softly. We must choose out acceptable words ; for these are the most forceable. It is better gently to insinuate, than roughly to obtrude our advice. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
We should always be open to the counsel of our friends; hear it with calmness, when it is offered ; examine it with fairness, when we have heard it ; and follow it as far as we are convinced it is just. He who feels too self important to be advised to his duty, is hardly capable of being reclaimed from his faults. A passionate temper exposes men to a thousand mischiefs.
This temper, joined with pride, obstinacy and ignorance, is fatal. Naaman repented of his rashness. He tried the remedy, and received a cure.
This was not the greatest benefit which he found in complying with the prophet's advice. Convinced by his miraculous cure, that Jehovah was the only true God, he returned to the man of God, and said, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel ; I will henceforth offer nei. ther burnt offering, nor sacrifice unto any other gods but the Lord."
By this journey to the land of Israel, he obtained a cure of his idolatry, as well as of his leprosy. Surely he did not regret his labour.
Men's interest often turns on circumstances, which seem trivial, and from which they had little expectation. Naaman brought with him his servants, not for counsel, but attendance : But their advice was the occasion of his being healed of his disease, and reclaimed from his error. Had they
not interposed, he would probably have returned hoine in his passion, and carried his leprosy and idolatry with him. We may often see the wisdom and goodness of providence, in things, which, at first view, seemed small and inconsiderable. Our life, our virtue, our deliverance from danger, and our security from temptation, may depend on occurrences, which seem to us quite indifferent. God can overrule the smallest circumstances to the most important issue.
It is a mighty advantage to have those about us, who have more virtue and discretion than ourselves. He who walks with wise men, will be wise.
The leprosy of Naaman's body was the occasion which brought him to the knowledge and belief of the true religion. The greatest evils, which we suffer in life, may, in the hand of providence, be. come the means of our greatest good. This consideration should teach us submission to the ways of God. Afiction, much oftener than prosperity, is the means of virtue. By captivity Manasseh was awake. ned to repentance. By a famine the prodigal was brought to himself. Most men, who have been reclaimed from a vicious life, may, I believe, date the first beginning of serious consideration from a dan. gerous sickness, a grievous disappointment, the death of an intimate friend, or some other painful trial. Many have seen cause to bless God for the things, which once they thought were against them.
It may seem perhaps, from the following part of this story, that Naaman was but a partial convert to the worship of God. He says to the prophet, “In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” Some have, from hence,
supposed, that he intended still to worship the gods of his country, lest he should forfeit his high office under the king. But the prophet's answer, favours not this supposition. He says, “Go in peace.”
Naaman had resolved to worship no other god, but the Lord ; and as an open testimony of his faith in him, to build him an altar in Damascus, with materials carried from the land of Israel. His office, however, under the king, required his attendance in the temple of Rimmon, whenever his master went thither to worship; and when the king, leaning on his shoulder, should bow in the temple he must unavoidably bow with him. Now he enquires of the prophet, whether such an involuntary action, after he had given publick proof of his faith in the God of Israel, would be matter of offence. He seems to hope, it might be dispensed with, and he need not resign his office. The prophet says, “ Go in peace.” Civil respect to your king is not inconsistent with the worship of God.
True religion is pure and uncorrupt. It is di. rected to the one supreme God. It consists in lov. ing and serving him with an undivided heart. But it dissolves not our natural, or civil relations, nor cancels the obligations which result from them : It only requires us to perform the duties of these rela. tions with simplicity and sincerity, as to God, and not men. If Naaman in order to retain his office, had determined to worship the idols of his country, vain and unacceptable would have been liis sacrifi. ces to the God of Israel. But if he made open declaration of his abhorrence of the Syrian idola. try, and only attended on the king in compliance with the civil duties of his station, the prophet signifies, that he might be accepted.
New converts are to be treated with tenderness. Too rigorous impositions may discourage hopeful beginnings. Our Saviour would not put new wine
into old bottles, lest the bottles should burst, and the wine be spilled.
The conversion of so respectable an officer in the Syrian nation might produce happy consequences to others. The altar which he erected, and the worship which he paid, in his own country, to the one supreme God, might be the occasion of reclaiming many from their idolatry. Great and important effects are often produced from small beginnings. The reformation of one sinner may eventually prove the salvation of thousands. Paul obtain ed mercy, that in him Christ might shew forth all long suffering for a pattern to them, who should af. terward believe to life everlasting.
God has wonderful ways in bringing about his merciful purposes to men. He often makes a small circumstance productive of mighty events, and turns a worldly calamity into an eternal blessing. We should learn to regard his hand in all our changes, to trust his wisdom in all our perplexities, to trace the ways of his providence in their wonderful connexions, to improve our worldly afflictions for the advancement of religion in our hearts, and to exhibit before men such a bright example of good works, that they also may glorify God.
The first Fruits unto Christ.
ROMANS, xvi. 5.
AUL in his salutations to his christian friends, mentions something in the character of al. most every one, as a ground and reason of his af. fection and esteem. What he particularly commends in this Epenetus is, that he was the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ. Some copies read, the first fruits of Asia, which reading some think should be preferred, because the Apostle says, 1 Cor. xvi, 15. that the house of Stephanas was the fruits of Achaia. But perhaps Epenetus might be the first person, and the household of Stephanas the first family, in Achaia, which openly embraced the gospel
. On this supposition the passages, as they stand, are fully reconciled.
The first fruits under the law, were an offering made to God of part of the harvest in acknowl. edgment of his bounty. This offering was made of the first ripe fruits, and before the harvest was