By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: '"Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?" 2 Kings 8:13.
The Bible is a wonderful photograph gallery, Here we have a young man -- a trustworthy young man, a virtuous young man, a tenderhearted young man Hazael. He is the trusted private secretary, or perhaps the prime minister of Benhadad, King of Syria.
This proud, hostile enemy of Israel had fallen very sick. When a man becomes dangerously ill, as a rule he becomes sincere and sometimes turns for help to the very ones he has previously criticized and maligned. So this wicked king hears that Elisha, "the man of God" has come to Damascus. O, that it might be truly said of every minister when seen in his everyday clothes, "Behold the man of God." This would be much better than to say in a jocular way, "Hello, So-and-so."
So Hazael went to see Elisha and took a present with him -- "Even of every good thing of Damascus forty camels' burden." This was no mean present, coming from a rich and powerful king. "Every good thing of Damascus," at least forty wagon loads, for a camel is capable of carrying a wagon load. We remember standing on the street called Straight in Damascus (supposed to be the same street St. Paul mentions), when behold a camel came swinging along with a load of hay on his back. The burden was so great that it scraped the buildings on each side of the narrow street, and we had to hurriedly find a place to hide. These streets are only about sixteen feet wide.
Young Hazael finally stands before the prophet and says, "Thy son Benhadad, King of Syria, hath sent me to thee saying, Shall I recover of this disease?"
"And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover; howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die."
"And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept."
"And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child."
The innocent young man protested and said, "But what, is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing?"
There are at least three outstanding thoughts in this narrative.
I. The Foreknowledge of God.
II. The Progression of depravity.
III. The Sequence -- Get rid of Carnality, or it will get rid of you.
I. The Foreknowledge of God.
This term has been frequently associated with that of "Election" and "predestination." It is an old controverted point and I do not have the time, ability, or disposition to discuss it at length. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as fore-knowledge with God. For, with him every thing in the past, or future is an eternal-present.
We are confronted with great mysteries on every side, but because we do not fully understand all things, shall we turn fool and refuse to profit by those things we do understand? We cannot fathom why an all-wise God, who at the beginning, clearly foresaw all the fearful consequences of sin, should have ever allowed it to enter the world. But He did! "The Divine permission of sin is a profound mystery." In our efforts to pry into these mysteries sometimes we get into greater confusion. If the Great God and His doing could be fully comprehended by finite man then He would not be worthy of our adoration, for he would be no greater than we.
Simply because He foresaw a tragedy does not imply that he willed it. Because the prophet prophesied that young Hazael would do these awful things, did not necessitate his doing them. In after years Hazael may have excused his barbarism with the thought, "Inasmuch as I am raised up to punish the Israelites for their wickedness, I am not responsible for carrying out the Eternal decrees." Lord Byron excused his bestiality and reflected on his Maker by saying in substance, "If I am born with these propensities, why should I be blamed if I yield to them." But listen! A man may not be to blame if he catches small-pox, but he is to blame if he refuses the remedy.
God does not "elect" John Smith to go to heaven because he believes in the doctrine of election. But if John Smith obtains and maintains a right relationship with Him, he is as sure of heaven as if he were already there. God elects character, not individuals. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." I say it reverently, God cannot save, or damn a soul only as that soul deliberately chooses right, or wrong. He will not force the human mind, but says, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve."
A preacher who is a strong advocate of the doctrine of "Eternal security," (once in grace, always in grace) said to me, "Brother Shelhamer, I know you do not believe this doctrine, but I get a great deal of comfort out of it. If I should fall into grievous sin -- of course I do not expect to do so -- I know God would punish me, yet I feel he would eventually save me." I replied that any doctrine that presumed on the goodness of God and lessened the spirit of watchfulness on our part, was from' beneath. Peter exploded that old thread-bare saying, "Once a son, always a son," by declaring that a certain class were "cursed children, which have forsaken the right way."
Turn to 1 Sam. 23:1-13. Here we find David had fled from King Saul and sought refuge in Keilah, a fortified town on the road to Hebron. Saul hears of it and calls "all the people together" to go and get David and his men. But David resorts to mighty prayer and in verses 11 and 12, we find the following questions and answers:
"David said, 'Will Saul come down to Keilah?' And the Lord said, 'He will come down.' 'Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?' And the Lord said, 'They will deliver thee up.'" "In this short history we find an ample proof that there is such a thing as contingency in human affairs; that is God has poised many things between a possibility of being and not being, leaving it to the will of the creature to turn the scale. In the above answers of the Lord the following conditions were evidently implied: If thou continue in Keilah, Saul will certainly come down; and if Saul come down, the men of Keilah will deliver thee into his hands. Now though the text positively asserts that Saul would come to Keilah, yet he did not come; and that the men of Keilah would deliver David into his hand, yet David was not thus delivered to him. And Why? Because David left Keilah. We may observe from this that, "However positive a declaration of God may appear that refers to any thing in which man is to be employed, the prediction is not intended to suspend, or destroy free agency, but always comprehends in it some particular condition." -- Adam Clarke
II. The Progressiveness of Depravity.
Here was young Hazael -- horrified at the thought of committing atrocious crimes. But hold a moment! He is not rid of the carnal mind and does not dream what he will yet dot Upon returning to "his master" the first thing he did was to utter a falsehood. And "on the morrow." -- See how quickly the tiger of sin in him awakes -- "he took a thick cloth," and dipping it in water, steals into the inner chamber where lies the half conscious King and suddenly holding it tightly over the face, smothers him to death. "And Hazael reigned in his stead."
Sin and Satan never sleep! You ask, "Is not the world growing better?" I answer, "Yes, and no!" The saints are ripening for heaven, while sinners are growing worse and worse. Good environments are insufficient. The trouble lies deep within. The ax must be laid, not to the branches, but to the "root of the tree."
Sin, like leprosy, can only be cured by the Great God. I knew a fine little four-year-old son of a godly father. The father was absent for a moment and the little fellow was making a racket with his toys. He was asked in a very loving tone, "please do not be so noisy." After a long pause he replied, "When you speak to me just leave out that word please, for there is not a thing in me that likes that word. Papa punishes me, but he can't make me like that word." There it is! the same hateful old thing that is not subject to law only as it is compelled to be.
Years ago I had an occasion to correct my own seven year old son, after which we knelt in prayer. (Say, father, you are not fit to whip a child or even a mule unless you can then and there kneel in prayer.) The boy's spirit was bitter, until he saw the tears running down his father's face, then he broke and said, "Dear Jesus take all the naughty out and put the good in, for sin is too strong for me." An awful truth! Every day the papers, police and picture shows prove that something is awfully wrong and is growing worse and worse. We call it S-I-N, a small word, but it cannot be pronounced without the sound of the hiss of the serpent. Dear man, it is too strong for you! Don't try in your own strength to grapple with it, for every Son of Adam has miserably failed.
III. Get rid of sin, or it will get rid of you.
Friends, we are repeating history. Do you realize that while you are sitting here enjoying life, multitudes have gone and are forgotten, who at one time had as bright, or brighter prospects than any of you? They had better clothes, a better education, a larger circle of friends; they were more tactful, more winsome in their ways -- in short, their possibilities far surpassed ours. But where are they? On the dump heaps of Satan -- worn out, rusty, broken, twisted, disfigured, and hardly recognizable. Why? Because like King Saul, they spared Agag -- a type of the carnal mind.
Saul was a fine, modest, all-round fellow, standing head and "shoulders higher than any of the people." A splendid beginning, had he only kept humble. God planned that his kingdom should be "established upon Israel forever." But instead, he died before his time, in despair and a suicide. Yes, carnality has dethroned Kings, crushed empires, annihilated nations, filled insane asylums, disrupted churches, disgraced ministers, and caused hell to be enlarged. Carnality is the most dangerous and ruinous thing outside of the pit. It is as old as the fall, hence is called, "The old man" -- the only begotten child of the devil.
Carnality separates chief friends. When the Catholics and Unitarians in Florida arrested and locked me in jail three times for preaching the Gospel, a dear friend of mine -- a minister in a distant city read of the outrage, took the train and came to my assistance. He stood by nobly and was himself incarcerated with me. After we won the fight and bought a church I suggested that we get a sign painter to make us a nice bulletin. He remarked that he knew how to do it and could make one himself.
"Very well," said I, "go ahead and make one while I am gone to Winter Haven, for a short meeting and I will pay you."
When I returned he informed me that the sign was ready and we proceeded to put it up. I noticed some grave errors to which I called his attention and suggested that he better touch up some of the defects, withal telling him it was better than I could do. While standing in front of the Church, an old drunkard, under deep conviction came up and looked on without saying a word. Suddenly, to my utter astonishment the preacher threw down the hammer and nails angrily, turned and walked away, saying, "Put it up yourself."
I pleaded with him to come back, that I meant no offense, but with an independent air he walked on. The poor old drunkard, dumbfounded and disgusted, never returned to any of the services and later I fear, died without hope. Why? Because at a crucial point carnality manifested itself and vetoed all the conviction that had come to a poor sinner. This is not all! That preacher who formerly likened us to David and Jonathan, broke fellowship, left the church, separated from his pure wilt, married another and I fear the deceived man will in the end lose his soul. Not because God wills it, but because when he, like King Saul, came face to face with his Agag, he deliberately spared him. Do I hear you say, "Am I a dog that I should do such a thing?" Brother you do not know to what awful depths you may sink if you do not get rid of carnality.
Little things make character; little choices, little longings, little prejudices, little harborings. But the crucial tests reveal it. Fletcher says that one way to know if you are sanctified wholly is to give "close attention to what passes in your heart at all times, but especially in an hour of temptation." I may be preaching right now to those who have prayed and hoped for the salvation of loved ones, then in an unguarded moment, Satan and carnality got the advantage and you said, or did something that surprised the other party and drove all conviction away. Was not that unfortunate? But see here! You will do so again and again unless you go deeper than a resolve and actually get rid of the cause within.
I knew another man, a mighty man of prayer, a brilliant writer and deep preacher. Some of his songs have gone around the globe. But prosperity and popularity gave him an air of self-importance. When he could not have his way he became estranged from his brethren, pulled off for himself and later became infatuated with a young lady which caused his true wife to die with a broken heart. He married the young woman, misappropriated funds, joined the Dowieites and now renounces his former radical stand on sound doctrine. But, you say, "Am I a dog that I should do such a thing?" Friend, you do not know what pride, self-will and evil desire will do for you.
Another case, this time a fine young lady l I think she was the best exhorter I ever heard. I rarely saw her fail to move an audience to tears and get seekers. But her beauty and natural accomplishments were out of proportion with her heart experience. The last time I saw her I hardly knew her. Though warned, she married a young preacher, who backslid, then went to digging coal and moved from one mine to another, living in filth, poverty and drunkenness. Her health and beauty had gone, her children were a disgrace and she was discouraged and brokenhearted.
Say young people, I feel like weeping as I look at you I Don't feel insulted if I prophesy and say, Some of your fair prospects will never be realized. Yea, that one now sitting by your side may shortly be your bitterest foe and the cause of your ruin! You retort, "Are we dogs that such a thing might be?" No, but you are not safe a minute while carrying around in your bosom something worse than a rattlesnake. Multitudes of others, who were once just as bright and beautiful, just as pure and popular. have made sad shipwreck and gone into oblivion prematurely, because they did not get and keep the experience of heart purity.
What do I see! I see an army of men -- Senators, bankers, college presidents, merchants, musicians and ministers! Where? In prisons and insane asylums who ought not to be there and would not be there had they gotten cured at the core.
Whom else do I see? I see a mighty preacher who had written many books. His slate was filled for four years ahead. Too bad that at his height of popularity he should disgrace himself and because of shame go insane.
Again, I see a returned missionary selling real estate, getting rich and keeping his office open on Sunday! Ah! brains, popularity and prosperity cannot cope with this virus of hell!
What is it like? I'll tell you! It is like that young boa-constrictor which a man brought from India. It measured only a few feet, but he cared for it, till it became some twenty feet long and as thick as a man's leg. It was well trained and as the owner traveled from city to city, great throngs eagerly paid their money to see the performance. The actor appeared on the stage, gave a signal and out from his cage on the other side, slowly and stealthily came the great serpent, his eyes glistening, his forked tongue shooting forth. Coming to his feet, the huge beast encircled his master's entire body so as to resemble a glassy pillar -- the head of the python swaying back and forth. The effect was electrifying. Then by another signal the boa unwound and crawled off to his den. This was act number one.
The show became very popular and in a short time was asked to reappear. Crowds came as before. The glassy pillar was seen again for a moment, then fell to the floor. A great cheer! A new production! What a fine cushion in which to fall! But look! The scene changes! The coils tighten, bones are heard to break, women faint and men rush panic stricken from the theater, heart sick! At least the treacherous animal gives way to his native depravity and instead of swooping down from the bough of a tree and crushing the life out of a horse or lion, this time it is his indulgent master.
Say, Friend, you can play with sin, you can fondle pride and lust, but hear me! Something must die. It is a fight to the finish and God must drive sin from your heart, or it will drive Him, not only from your heart, but eventually from his throne! What shall it be? Heaven help you!
"Ye who know your sins forgiven,
And are happy in the Lord;
Have you read the gracious promise,
Which is left upon record:
I will sprinkle you with water,
I will cleanse you from all sin,
Sanctify and make you holy,
I will come and reign within.
"Though you have much peace and comfort,
Greater things you yet may find;
Freedom from unholy temper,
Freedom from the carnal mind;
To procure your perfect freedom
Jesus suffered, groaned, and died,
On the cross the healing fountain
Gushed from his wounded side."