By J.R. Miller
2 Kings 2:12-22
No good man's work is ended--when the man himself is taken from the earth. Every influence of his life stays among men. No one does more than a little fragment of the world's work, in his short time on the earth. Elijah came into the world, did what God gave him to do, and then passed away, leaving an unfinished work behind him. Then Elisha came and took up Elijah's mantle, and went on doing his part of the work.
The cry of Elisha when he saw Elijah departing was first a cry of sorrow, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" Thus he extolled the value of Elijah to the nation, his greatness, the defense he had been. It is always a loss to a community when a godly man departs. The country was protected by its horses and chariots. Elijah had been the defense of Israel. What the country owed to him, no one can tell. In his own measure every godly man is chariots and horsemen to his own country and community. We should make our lives so good, so faithful, so strong, so full of helpfulness, that we shall indeed be chariots and horsemen to our community.
The falling of Elijah's mantle at Elisha's feet was the divine call to the young prophet to take up the work which his master had left. There was to be no break in the continuity of the service. The chariots and the horsemen were gone--but already the place was filled with new chariots and new horsemen. "God buries the workman--but carries on the work." We weep when one is taken away, and lament the irreparable loss, as it seems to us. Irreparable it is, in one sense. No one ever can take the place of the friend who is gone out of our life. But then his work was done. There really was no longer any need for him to stay. Elijah had done his part in God's great plan, and had done it magnificently. There was need for more work--but this was not Elijah's work. Elisha was standing there to take up the mantle that dropped from his departing master.
We are continually seeing useful lives removed from earth. The loss seems to us irreparable. Their departure seems to us a calamity. But there are no accidents in God's providence. Every one's life is a plan of God, and no faithful servant of His is taken away--until his particular part in the great plan is finished. Then his mantle falls at someone's feet--yours, perhaps.
The godly father dies, and there is grief in the home. He will be greatly missed. Yes--but an older son stands by the coffin, strong and gifted, blessed with the blessing of the father's life and teaching. At this son's feet, the mantle falls from the father's shoulders. He must take it up--and with it the burdens and responsibilities of manhood. He must become now his mother's protector and the shelter and defender of his younger brothers and sisters. A godly mother dies; and when a holy mother is gone out of the sweet and gentle home which her own hands have built up--the loss indeed seems irreparable. But if there is an older daughter in the sorrowing group at the grave, the mother's mantle falls at her feet. So it is in all the breaks which death makes in Christian homes and communities. In every case, the mantle falls at someone's feet.
With the coming of the new responsibilities upon Elisha, there came also adequate power and wisdom. He claimed the fulfillment of the promise which Elijah had made. "He took the mantle . . . and smote the waters, and said. Where is Jehovah, the God of Elijah?" His faith was simple and strong. The same God who had wrought so wondrously through Elijah--would work now through Elisha. This is the law of grace with God. There is much comfort in this, if we will accept it. Parents are sometimes most anxious about their children when they think of the world's dangers and of the burdens they must carry when they go out to face life's struggles and tasks. Yet, if they would but remember their own life story, how the Lord had led them, protected, blessed, and helped them--and then remember that the same God is the God of their children, they need not be afraid. We read the story of God's providence in other people's lives, how wondrously He kept and guided them, and then we wish we might have like guidance in our lives. But have we not? "Where is Jehovah, the God of Elijah?"
The young prophets saw what Elisha did at the Jordan, and they knew at once that he really had been appointed to be the successor of Elijah. They said: "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him." They saw Elisha smite the river with the mantle and the waters open to allow him to pass through. They bowed themselves then before him as their new master. Elijah's mantle, carried now by Elisha, would not itself have convinced them of his appointment--but the miracle wrought, was sufficient proof. We can prove ourselves Christ's anointed ones--only by doing the works of Christ. It is not enough for a young man to be ordained as a minister--he must show in his life and work--the power of Christ. It is not enough to wear the emblems of official place in the Church--we must have in our lives the true marks of Christlikeness. In these days the world cares little for the mere emblems of ecclesiastical authority. The only credential that will be accepted is spiritual power, shown first in beautiful living, then in victoriousness in the world's struggles, and then in a ministry of power and helpfulness.
At once Elisha became the messenger of God to the people. He began to do them good in many ways. We have an illustration of this in the healing of the springs which supplied the city of Jericho with water. The authorities came to the prophet and told him that, while the situation of their city was pleasant, there was one serious drawback--the waters were not wholesome. Good water is essential to the health and prosperity of a city or town or community. Bad water produces disease and death.
But there are other kinds of evil fountains, besides corrupt springs of water. There are springs of moral pollution which gush up in the heart of many a city and spread evil and deadly curse. Many a village or town, lovely for situation, with fair streets and bright homes, wealth and many advantages of religion, education, and culture--is blackened, its beauty ruined--by its liquor saloons, which pour their streams of moral death all abroad. Gambling places are also like fountains of curse in a town or city. There are places of sinful amusement, too, which send out deadly streams. In every town in our country there are springs whose "water is bad," causing sin and sorrow!
Elisha promptly responded to the request of the authorities of the city, and the water was healed. "He went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast salt therein, and said. Thus says Jehovah, I have healed these waters."
This is a parable of the work of the gospel in this world. Our hearts are the had fountains, and Christ comes with the new cruse of the gospel and pours divine grace into the foul spring--and it is healed. All true reformation of life must begin within--at the spring of the waters. It will not do merely to change one's manners--to get a man to stop swearing and lying. He must get a changed heart. Then the only salt that will make the heart's bad waters sweet and good--is the salt of God's grace. If we would cure the fountains of evil in a town--we must use the same new cruse and the same salt. Legislation has its place--but the gospel alone can change sin's curse into the blessing of holiness.
Jesus said that Christians are the salt of the earth--but He said also that the salt must have its savor, else it will do no good. That is, the Christian people in a town must themselves be full of the Spirit of God, of the love of Christ, earnest, consistent, faithful, true. There are Christians enough in every town and city to save it and purify its fountains of sin--if they all were active and full of the grace of God.
Stories from missionary lands give illustrations, continually new, of this little acted parable. The missionaries find towns and cities beautiful for situation--but the "water is bad." They begin to pour the salt of the gospel into the springs, and at once the change begins.
Every Christian should see in Elisha here, pouring salt into the waters, a picture of himself, pouring the grace of God into some foul fountain to sweeten it. Every one of us should make at least one spot in this world a little more healthy and pure. Of course, the healing is God's work, not ours; but it is ours to put the salt into the foul springs--and we must be sure that it is really salt which we put in.