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Female Scripture Biographies, Vol. I by Francis Augustus Cox

Part 5 out of 6

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nature of their education: indulgence has permitted the wild plant to
shoot forth its branches with irregular luxuriancy, and it has become both
unsightly and enfeebled for want of being properly pruned. To suffer the
propensities and passions of children to go unrestrained is the extreme of
cruelty, being the most direct means of rendering them burdens to society
and tormentors to themselves.

Hannah, with admirable firmness, relinquished her youthful charge to the
care of Eli at the call of duty, and with no less admirable affection and
prudence, continued to maintain that kind of intercourse which tends to
promote mutual love. A _passionate_ mother would have urged her husband to
remove to Shiloh, for the sake of having her little darling perpetually
under her eye; a _prudent_ one chose to remain at Ramah, only bringing her
present at the annual festivals. True love knows when to separate, and is
ready to make necessary sacrifices to the good of a valued child. He was
in excellent hands, training to a noble work, under a venerable priest,
and in conformity to a solemn vow. Providence was not unobservant of his
mother's heroism and piety, and she is amply repaid, not only by his
superior excellence, but by her own increasing family. _One_ child is lent
to the Lord, _five_ are given. She possessed with gratitude, she resigned
with magnanimity, and she is recompensed by multiplication.

Let children never forget the debt they owe to maternal tenderness, a debt
which the devoted affection and kindness of a whole life can scarcely
discharge. Let the fond parent who nursed your infancy, corrected your
frowardness, sowed the seeds of knowledge and piety in your heart,
watched, wept, and prayed over you, be ever dear, ever respected, and
loved. She who has sustained your weakness, may live to need support from
your strength; she who hold you up in the helplessness of infancy, may
require your supporting arm, and deserves your sympathizing aid in the
years of her decrepitude.

Young persons need to be reminded, however, that even the impiety of
parents is no sufficient reason for disrespecting them _as parents_; and
if you possess the inestimable treasure of religion, it will be best
evinced in soothing the cares, ministering to the necessities, and setting
an example of every duty before the eyes of those who are still so unhappy
as to be destitute of it. But you who are born of the children of God, and
who have been nourished and educated under the wing of parental piety, can
never be too thankful to the God of your salvation, and at some future
period may have to adopt the poet's elevated strain:

"My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
But higher far my proud pretensions rise--
The son of parents pass'd into the skies."



Chapter XI.

Many persons naturally capable of great Attainments and elevated
Stations have lived and died unknown--the Dispensations of Providence
analogous in this respect to the Arrangements of Nature--Scripture
Account of Nabal and Abigail--Sources of Incongruous
Marriages--Ambition--Wish to maintain the Respectability of a
Family--Persuasion of Friends--early Disappointments--Nabal's Conduct to
David--Abigail's Interposition--Death of her Husband--She becomes
David's Wife.

Millions of the human race, naturally capable of great attainments and
mighty exploits, had they been differently circumstanced, or had their
mental and moral energies been properly cultivated, have died as they have
lived, in a state of obscurity. Unknown to the rest of mankind even by
name, they have scarcely wandered from the precincts of their native
village, or the cottage that gave them birth; but, like the wild flowers
of the untrodden wilderness, have sprung up, and bloomed, and perished
upon the same spot. Successive generations have occupied the identical
sphere of their ancestors, living in the same unenvied seclusion, and at
last carried to the same undistinguished grave.

Whoever has had an opportunity of knowing the state of society and the
character of man in retirement, must be aware that the amazing disparity
subsisting between the extremes of rusticity and of polished life arises
far less from original disproportions of capacity than from the accidental
circumstances which attach to the two conditions. Education has a
tendency to remove these differences, to elevate the inferior classes of
society from their degradation, to raise them in the scale of being and to
unite man to man: but still more important effects result from religion,
which, by fixing the thoughts on holy and heavenly objects, and firing the
breast with incessant ardour in the pursuit of them, advances the
character to a dignity otherwise unattainable. How much humble piety has
bloomed in the by-paths of life far from the crowded highway of the world,
amidst the recesses of privacy! How often has the beauty of holiness
adorned the most misshapen, or otherwise unattractive exterior! How many
great and pious individuals have occupied the vale of poverty, the objects
of divine approbation and of angelic joy; who, under different
circumstances, might have been ornaments of the political world, or lights
in the church of God; and will be pillars for ever in the
celestial temple!

These dispensations of Providence are analogous to certain arrangements in
nature. How many showers descend, and how many vegetable productions grow
in barren wildernesses! It is not till after ages of research that a few
species and varieties have been discovered; and it may be questioned
whether an equal, if not a far greater number, still exist in the
unfrequented solitudes of creation, which science may not visit for
centuries yet to come: and of those which are at present known, a few only
of their qualities, and the uses for which they were formed, have been
ascertained. To pronounce a condemnatory sentence upon that wisdom which
assigned them their places, merely on account of our incapacity to
discover their precise destination, would be presumptuous and impious in
the extreme; nor would it be less so to contemn the unsearchable mysteries
of Providence, whose arrangements surpass the comprehension and confound
the inquiries of man.

Some of those "lights shining in a dark place" have, however, been
occasionally brought into view by unexpected circumstances; and more than
one is exhibited through the medium of the inspired word. They would have
for ever remained in concealment, and their names have perished, excepting
from the book of God's remembrance, but for some apparent casualty. A
history of _incidents_ would furnish a most delightful record of
Providence, showing its secret, but certain operations, and its
connecting, though, to superficial observers, invisible links. One of
these, in the life of David, presents the brief, but interesting account
of ABIGAIL, who, like Job in Uz, Joseph in Egypt, and Daniel in Chaldea,
exhibited a specimen of solitary excellence, which at length emerged from
obscurity, and, by means of her connection with one of the most eminent of
mankind, shone in an appropriate sphere.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1058.]

She is thus introduced to our notice, in the scriptural narrative, at a
time when the son of Jesse was "hunted like a partridge upon the
mountains" by his royal persecutor. "And David arose, and went down to the
wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were
in Carmel: and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep and
a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of
the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife, Abigail: and she was a woman
of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was
churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb."

The contrast which the characters of Nabal and Abigail exhibit, may well
excite astonishment, that persons so dissimilar should have become united
by the tender ties of matrimony, and may lead us to inquire a little into
the sources of some incongruities of this kind, which not unfrequently
make their appearance in society. How is it, that _adaptation to each
other_, in point of mental and moral qualities especially, which seems so
great a prerequisite to happiness, should seldom form the basis of an
union voluntarily contracted, and incapable of dissolution--an union of
the closest nature, and an union for life?

Frequently an ill-assorted connection arises from an _ambitious motive_;
one party is wealthy, the other aspiring. Attracted by the gilded bait, it
is seized too eagerly to admit of prudential considerations respecting the
possibility of concealed mischief, from which, like the fish once caught
by the hook, it is too late to be disentangled. It cannot be asserted that
Abigail was induced to marry her churlish husband from such a motive,
though it will not be deemed improbable by those whose experience of the
world convinces them that even persons like her, of good understanding,
beauty, and piety, are sometimes guilty of similar improprieties. Riches
are, on many accounts, attractive to those whose immaturity of judgment is
dazzled by the glare of life, and who are consequently too apt to
associate in their conceptions things which, in reality, have no
connection--_splendour_ and _happiness_. The mind is naturally gratified
by a sense of elevation above the usual level of mankind, as persons
ascending in an air-balloon become elevated, even amidst their dangers, in
consequence of attaining a height impossible to others, and attracting the
idle gaze of spectators on the ground. It is supposed also, that wealth
will furnish some covert from the storms of adversity, if not a perfect
security against them; and, forgetting that it tends to multiply and
extend our wants in a ten-fold proportion to the means of supplying them,
the sheep and the goats of a Nabal are viewed with ardent but mistaken
fondness. It is difficult to convince the young of their errors upon this
subject; nevertheless, we forewarn them that the experiment is hazardous,
the prospect delusory, the possessions of life uncertain, and utterly
incapable of compensating for the absence of moral qualities and social
suitabilities; above all, we proclaim the criminality of cherishing an
avaricious disposition, and the practical falsehood of giving it the name
of love. A young woman acting upon this principle literally fulfils the
common representation of the case, by _throwing herself away_, and, in one
rash moment, forfeits her reputation and her happiness.

This unsuitability of connexion in married life sometimes originates in a
mutual, but foolish _wish to maintain the respectability of the family_.
In such instances both are wealthy, and join their fortunes as a sort of
compromise to the opinion of the world and their own pride, for the sake
of maintaining their rank. It is true, an equality, or some fair
proportion in point of fortune, as society is constituted, seems in itself
_desirable_, and, if it can be accomplished, is as legitimate an object of
pursuit as similarity of age or of mind; but the practice of making this
an absolute prerequisite, of sacrificing to it the affections of the
heart, and, qualifications of far greater importance, of rendering the
want of it a sufficient ground of refusing a matrimonial alliance, though
age, temper, religion, and every commendable quality, may be placed in the
other scale, and of deeming the possession of it enough when other great
requisites are absent, is both foolish and wicked. No reason can exist, in
such a case, why an Abigail--a woman of "good understanding," should
connect herself with a Nabal--a man "churlish and evil in his doings."

Occasionally the same evil arises from the _persuasion of others_,
especially of those who are entitled to respect, and who sometimes, very
improperly, interpose authority instead of suggesting advice. The parties
immediately concerned would by no means, if left to themselves, select
each other as companions for life, but marry merely to satisfy their
friends. It can never be regarded as otherwise than extreme cruelty in
those who compel their children to gratify _their_ predilections, instead
of allowing them their _own_ choice. As this is a connexion, the happiness
of which so essentially depends upon the affections, and as no argument
can force the heart into an attachment from which it naturally, or perhaps
capriciously revolts, and as moreover, the comfort of existence results
from the state of the mind far more than from any external circumstances
whatever; reason and religion prescribe, that, after due caution and
admonition, persons should be permitted to determine ultimately for
themselves, without being subjected to the miserable alternative of
accepting parental choice or forfeiting parental fondness.

Incongruous connexions may also originate in one or both of the parties
having suffered _previous disappointment._ Young persons under the pang
occasioned by the failure of a romantic attachment, foolishly resolve no
more to consult affection, or even to allow it any share in the
determination of their choice. They imagine it needless any longer to
expect happiness, because they cannot possess the individual they supposed
alone capable of promoting it, and repair to marriage merely as a refuge
from solitude or from reproach. In such cases, they deem it of
comparatively trifling consequence with whom they connect themselves,
refusing to admit it possible that they should ever more obtain peace
of mind.

Nothing, however, can be more delusive than such a feeling. The immaturity
of the judgment at the early age of first attachments, renders it probable
that they may not, in reality, have made the best selection, and that
their preferences were determined rather by casual circumstances and
accidental impressions, than any knowledge of character or any perception
of solid qualities. If the comfort of life depended upon the success of
early predilections, it is probable few would be happy; but Providence has
wisely ordered it otherwise, by constituting it independent of arbitrary
associations. Let not the young, therefore, precipitate themselves into
improper connexions--into connexions not founded on principle, and not
cemented by love, through indulging the notion that the gratification of a
first romantic attachment is essential to happiness, and that if
disappointed, it is of no importance whether they become united to a
gentle Isaac or a churlish Nabal; because, in reality, the prize is yet to
be won, the jewel is yet attainable, and Providence may have kindly
frustrated a present wish, to bestow ultimately a more substantial
benefit. "The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh
to direct his steps." Our utmost efforts cannot arrest or accelerate the
wheel of destiny, which is turned by a secret and invisible power, that
raises or depresses, subserves or frustrates our purposes, _irresistibly_
indeed, but not _arbitrarily_; making "all things work together for good
to them that love God."

The history before us represents David as still a wanderer from wilderness
to wilderness, and reduced to great extremity. Hearing of the
extraordinary festivities observed upon the occasion of Nabal's shearing
his sheep, from which he inferred his opulence, ten messengers were sent
to him to solicit, in the most respectful manner, a supply of provisions.
It was intimated, that David had not availed himself of the power which
the Arab emirs are accustomed to assume, of seizing whatever they need,
but on the contrary, had afforded protection, instead of exercising
violence. [36]

Nabal not only refused to comply with the request, but returned an
insulting answer, which the young men carried to their master. David felt
the utmost indignation, and instantly prepared to resent the affront. The
persecutions of Saul being no more than he expected, were borne with a
fortitude, and requited by a forbearance which cannot but excite our
admiration; but the unlooked-for barbarity of Nabal took him by surprise,
and threw him into a rage. We cannot justify his hostile preparations, nor
look without regret upon his rash proceeding, in taking four hundred of
his armed followers to destroy Nabal. How unlike David, the man after
God's own heart, who had been so long trained in the school of
affliction, and so often manifested a very different spirit! Alas, bow
easily are the best of men "led into temptation;" and how necessary is it
to exercise vigilance, not only over our "easy besetting sins," but over
what we deem the least vulnerable points of our character! Neglecting the
requisite precautions, we may be taken even on the strongest side, and at
the most unexpected moment.

One of the servants informed Abigail of what had occurred, stating the
message of David, and the behaviour of her husband; and, at the same time,
representing the civility with which the former had conducted himself
towards the shepherds.

A person of less understanding might have said, "Let these rival chiefs
settle the matter between themselves; my husband had an undoubted right to
do what he pleased with his own, and he has the means of defending himself
from a vindictive stranger." But Abigail wisely listened to the
information communicated by the servant, and instantly adopted a plan,
which seemed indeed the only one calculated to avert the threatened blow.
She took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready
dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and a hundred clusters of
raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, which she hastened to present
to David.

This was excellent management. Had she repaired to her husband, and
endeavoured to pacify his turbulent spirit by remonstrance, reason, or
entreaty, the probability is she would have met with a repulse, and
disabled herself from any further interference. Had she merely _sent_ the
supply with which the asses were laden, the indignant son of Jesse might,
very possibly, have returned it as insufficient, or pressed on with his
armed men to compel Nabal to make reparation for the affront he had
ventured to offer. This skilful negotiator, however, goes herself to
settle the contention which had so suddenly arisen; and never, surely, was
a better arranged or more successful expedition.

The moment Abigail perceived David, she alighted from her ass, and,
falling prostrate at his feet, addressed him in language well calculated
to accomplish her wishes. Every thing was in perfect contrast with the
behaviour of Nabal--her suppliant posture--the respectful term she
chooses, calling him _lord_--the appropriation of her husband's fault to
herself--the apology she offers for him, by representing his conduct as
resulting rather from a momentary impulse than any settled malignity, as
the general failing of his nature, not the effect of any personal
malevolence--the ignorance she professes of the request which David had
sent, insinuating that otherwise he would have received a very different
return--her apparent assurance of success, delicately intimating the happy
circumstance of his being restrained from shedding blood in a momentary
fit of passion--her offer of the magnificent present she had prepared--her
congratulation upon his achievements--her confident anticipations of his
future triumphs, and final establishment in the kingdom--her reference to
Providence--her suggestion, that it would hereafter prove a source of
satisfaction that he had been prevented from committing an act which,
whatever were the provocation, must be painful to recollect, and which
must rather afflict his conscience than grace his laurels--all these
topics were well introduced, and urged with a tone of eloquence that
proved irresistible. David takes the present, thanks Abigail for her
interposition, and dismisses her, with the assurance that he had
"hearkened to her voice, and accepted her person."

Upon her return she found Nabal in a state of intoxication, totally
disregardful of danger, and ignorant of the ruin from which his prudent
wife had procured his deliverance. Thus do multitudes sport upon the brink
of everlasting destruction, heedless of the justice they have provoked,
and solicitous only of consuming those hours, and days, and years, in
indulgence, which ought to be devoted to repentance. Let the "lovers of
pleasure" reflect on three short maxims, "He that will not fear, shall
_feel_, the wrath of Heaven--He that lives in the kingdom of _Sense_ shall
die in the kingdom of _Sorrow_--He shall never truly enjoy his _present_
hour who never thinks on his _last_." [37]

Abigail properly resolved to defer any conversation with Nabal till the
morning, when she disclosed the whole affair. The surprise was so great
that "his heart died within him, and he became as a stone." Ten days
afterward he was smitten by the hand of God, and descended without honour
into the grave. No one could esteem him while living, and no one regretted
him when dead.

The news of this event having been conveyed to David, he expressed his
grateful sense of the divine goodness in keeping him from the execution of
his rash project, and in thus vindicating his cause by a signal
interference. As he had been deeply impressed with the personal charms and
good understanding of Abigail, and as no obstacle seemed to exist to
prevent their union, he took the first opportunity of proposing to marry
her; to which, with becoming expressions of humility and modesty, she

"It was a fair suit," says Bishop Hall, "to change a David for a Nabal; to
become David's queen, instead of Nabal's drudge! She, that learned
humility under so hard a tutor, abaseth herself no less when David offers
to advance her: 'Let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the
servants of my lord.' None are so fit to be great as those that can stoop
lowest. How could David be more happy in a wife? He finds at once piety,
wisdom, humility, faithfulness, wealth, beauty. How could Abigail be more
happy in a husband, than in the prophet, the champion, the anointed of
God? Those marriages are well made, wherein virtues are matched and
happiness is mutual."

The Queen of Sheba.

Chapter XII.

David's Anxiety for his Son--its happy Issue--Solomon's Prayer, and the
Answer of God--Solomon's Riches and Fame--the Queen of Sheba's
visit--her Country ascertained--such Solicitude for Wisdom not
common--She proves Solomon with hard Questions--her Desire of Knowledge
worthy of Imitation--Solomon's Conduct--his Buildings--the Queen's
congratulatory Address--Reflections--her Presents to Solomon, and his to
the Queen of Sheba--Christ's Application of the Subject.

The pious solicitude of David, the king of Israel, in his last hours, for
his son and successor, is thus recorded in the closing chapter of the
first book of Chronicles: "Give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart, to
keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes." With this
prayer he connected suitable and impressive advice, "Thou Solomon my son,
know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and
with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth
all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found
of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever."

Parental piety does not always influence, as it ought, those who by their
domestic privileges are most favourably situated for witnessing it: to all
human appearance, the language of kind remonstrance or entreaty has been
often useless, the petitions of fervent desire have failed, and the tears
of pure affection have flowed in vain. The present instance, however,
furnishes a pleasing exception to this remark; for upon Solomon's
accession to the throne, he appointed a solemn festival at Gibeon before
the tabernacle of Moses; and during the night, in which the God of Israel
desired that he would ask what he should bestow upon him, he presented a
petition, no less distinguished by its singularity in such circumstances,
than by its excellence and success. "And Solomon said unto God, Thou hast
showed great mercy unto David my father, and hast made me to reign in his
stead. Now, O Lord God, let thy promise unto David my father, be
established; for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the
earth in multitude. Give me now WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE, that I may go out
and come in before this people; for who can judge this thy people that is
so great? And God said to Solomon, Because this was in thine heart, and
thou hast not asked riches, wealth, or honour, nor the life of thine
enemies, neither yet hast asked long life; but hast asked wisdom and
knowledge, that thou mayest judge my people over whom I have made thee
king; WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE is GRANTED UNTO THEE; and I will give thee
RICHES, and WEALTH, and HONOUR, such as none of the kings have had that
have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like."

The inspired description of Solomon's magnificence may justly excite
astonishment--a magnificence which extended to "all his drinking vessels,
which were of gold; and all the vessels of the house of the forest of
Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: It was nothing accounted
of in the days of Solomon." It is natural to imagine, that the fame of so
remarkable a prince, concurring with the comparative ease with which gold
and silver were procurable, would contribute to establish that taste for
splendour which has ever distinguished the potentates of the East. It is
stated by Sir J. Chardin, that the plate of the king of Persia is of pure
gold, originally made by Shah Abbas, the most glorious of the princes of
the Sefi royal family; who, for this purpose, melted seven thousand two
hundred marks, or nearly thirty six thousand English troy ounces of _the
purest gold_. But Solomon, according to the testimony of Scripture, was
the most opulent prince that ever sat upon a throne. His annual revenues
were six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, exclusive of the supply he
received from the customs and from tributary nations. A talent weighed
three thousand shekels, and a shekel two hundred and nineteen grains. The
king employed a navy, which, with the assistance of Tyrian vessels and
navigators, who were esteemed the most skilful in the world, fetched gold
and silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks, from Ophir, by the way of the red
sea. This voyage occupied three years.

In comparing the extremes of human society, the riches of a Solomon with
the poverty of a Bartimeus, it becomes us to recognize the hand of a
mysterious though wise Providence. He who fixed the stars of the firmament
in their proper places, determines, independently of all human control,
the orders of society and the sphere of the individual; and it is no less
consolatory than obvious, that the equitable rule by which a final
judgment of our character is to be determined, will measure the extent of
our responsibility, by an impartial estimate of our situation, our
opportunities, and our respective talents.

Attracted by the celebrity of Solomon, the QUEEN OF SHEBA came to
Jerusalem, with a train and presents suited to his dignity and her own.
Although the sovereigns of neighbouring nations paid similar visits of
ceremony and of curiosity, yet this illustrious woman is particularly
noticed in the sacred page, on account perhaps of her sex, her
inquisitiveness, the remoteness of her situation, the magnificence of her
equipage and offerings; but especially the piety of her views, and the
impressive language of her devout admiration.

The date of this interview with the king of Israel may be referred, with
sufficient accuracy, to the year of the world three thousand and twelve,
or nine hundred and ninety-two before the Christian era. This was
subsequent to the completion of the temple and of the royal houses. A
variety of opinions have prevailed respecting the kingdom of Sheba; and
some have supposed, though without sufficient reason, that this is the
name of the queen herself, and not of her country or capital. The
probability is, that _Sheba_, situated in the southern part of Arabia
Felix, and on the eastern coast of the Red Sea, is intended. Moses speaks
of Sheba, the son Joktan, a descendant of Eber, and more remotely of Shem;
and ancient authors represent his descendants, the _Sabeans_, as peopling
this district of Arabia, the metropolis of whose kingdom was denominated
_Sheba_ or _Saba_. It appears from authentic testimony, that they were
accustomed to female government; and Bochart proves, by numerous
citations, that the kingdom of Sheba was called by the Jews _the country
of the South_, which explains the phraseology of our Lord in the twelfth
chapter of Matthew. The geographical accuracy of this statement is further
corroborated, by comparing the description which the inspired historian
records of the gifts presented by this queen to Solomon, with the language
of Pliny and Herodotus: the former of whom says, "that odoriferous woods
were in use only in this country, and that the Sabean consumed them in
dressing their food;" and the latter, "that the Arabians took a thousand
talents of frankincense every year to Darius." We deem it proper to avoid
involving ourselves in a labyrinth of geographical difficulties, and have
therefore simply stated the result of our inquiries; which however may
furnish us with, at least, one serious reflection. How transitory and how
contemptible is human glory! It is not peculiar to the poor and the
destitute to be forgotten, to have their dwellings and their names perish
amidst the desolations of time; such is nearly the fate of one of the most
remarkable sovereigns of antiquity, whose visit to the greatest potentate
of the eastern world is so celebrated in Scripture. What mean our trifling
cares--our incessant solicitude about temporal possessions and worldly
distinctions? The house we now inhabit will soon be demolished and swept
away by the flood of time--the name by which we are distinguished, and the
annals of our short period of temporal existence, will soon be scarcely
remembered by our successor--all our glory will be covered with the
darkness of death! Shall we not, therefore, aim to secure an incorruptible
inheritance in the skies, and an unfading pre-eminence in the records of
eternity? "The _righteous_ shall be had in everlasting remembrance."

The design of the queen of Sheba, in repairing to Jerusalem, was not
merely to pay a visit of ceremony. She "heard of his fame concerning the
name of the Lord," and "she came to prove him with hard questions." The
report, not only of the riches, splendour, and wisdom of Solomon, but also
of the miraculous interferences of the God of Israel on behalf of his
people, and of his peculiar favour to this monarch, had reached the
distant residence of this Arabian queen; and so deep was the interest it
excited in her bosom, that she determined to undertake a journey, long and
hazardous as it might be, for the sake of investigating these
extraordinary facts. It is evident she attached a considerable degree of
credibility to the representations she had received; and relying no longer
upon subordinate means of information, she resolved upon a course of
diligent inquiry. When and where shall we discover a similar zeal to
acquire a knowledge of "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God?" How often
have Christian ministers occasion to adopt the prophetic strain, "Who hath
believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" How
often do all the personal excellencies, the moral glories of him who is
described as "a greater than Solomon," fail to attract mankind? Satisfied
with mere report--few apply to the sacred Scriptures as the immediate and
purest means of instruction in "the truth as it is in Jesus," after the
long-recorded example of the ancient Bereans, who "received the word (of
Paul and Silas) with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures
daily, whether those things were so."

Bishop Hall very pertinently remarks, "No doubt many, from all coasts,
came to learn and wonder, none with so much note as this noble daughter of
Cham; who herself deserves the next wonder to him whom she came to hear
and admire: that a woman, a princess, a rich and great queen, should
travel from the remotest south, from Sheba, a region famous for the
greatest delicacies of nature, to learn wisdom, is a matchless example. We
know merchants that venture to either Indies for wealth; others we know
daily to cross the seas for wanton curiosity; some few philosophers we
have known to have gone far for learning; and among princes, it is no
unusual thing to send their ambassadors to far distant kingdoms, for
transaction of business either of state or commerce: but that a royal lady
should in person undertake and overcome so tedious a journey, only to
observe and inquire into the mysteries of nature, art, religion, is a
thing past both parallel and imitation. Why do we think any labour great,
or any way long, to hear a greater than Solomon? How justly shall the
queen of the South rise up in judgment, and condemn us, who may hear
wisdom crying in our streets, and neglect her?"

Among princely cares, the ardent search of truth can seldom be enumerated,
though it be a most honourable and beneficial employment. Those whom
Providence has placed in an elevated situation are usually too much
occupied with themselves, their pleasures, their pomp, and their ambitious
projects, to listen to the dictates, or to search out the mysteries of
wisdom. The concerns of an extensive empire furnish a plausible pretext
for neglecting the great interest of piety, which a deceived heart is
ready to plead in extenuation of a conduct condemned alike by reason,
conscience, and revelation. But let the rulers of nations observe David,
Solomon, and others of the kings of Israel; the splendour of whose earthly
glory was eclipsed by the superior brightness of their heavenly wisdom;
and whose names are written upon, the sacred page, not so much, because
they were _men of rank_, as because they were _men of God_. The command
of Jesus Christ is of prime importance and of universal obligation, "Seek
FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" and unless it can be
demonstrated that he has made one code of laws for the prince and another
for the peasant, or that his precepts possess an accommodating flexibility
suited to the prejudices and passions of mankind, no exception can be for
a moment admitted. As there is no royal road to the heights of human
science, but all who attain them must ascend by assiduous and persevering
application, so there is none to the summit of celestial felicity; but
persons of every class, rank, sex, and age, must follow Christ in the same
unsmoothed path of repentance and self-denial. Hence, such is the
bewitching influence of worldly splendour, so numerous and so powerful the
attractions of opulence, that we have daily and hourly proofs of the
apostle's statement: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty,
not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the weak things of the
world, to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the
world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things
which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should
glory in his presence." But happily the long scroll of history is here and
there embellished with a name, which combines the glory that confers
pre-eminence in the present world, with the grace that secures everlasting
distinction in the next.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 892.]

This celebrated princess is said to have visited Solomon, "to prove him
with hard questions," by which have generally been understood enigmatical
puzzles. Some of these are to be found in sacred writ, of which the riddle
which Samson proposed to the young men of Timnath, is a very ancient and
curious specimen. It appears from the writings of the ancients, that the
Greeks and all the Eastern nations, were singularly attached to enigmas.
Plutarch, in his Feast of the Seven Sages, introduces the following
questions proposed by Amasis, the king of Egypt, to the king of Ethiopia:
"What is the most ancient thing--what the most beautiful--what the
largest--what the wisest--what the most common--what the most useful--what
the most hurtful--what the strongest--and what the most easy?" To which the
king of Ethiopia replied, "The most ancient thing is time--the most
beautiful is light--the largest is the world--the wisest is truth--the
most common is death--the most useful is God--the most hurtful is the
devil--the strongest is fortune--and the most easy, to follow one's own
inclination." In the book of Proverbs, we find several series of this
description, which originally might have been answers to questions of a
similar nature. Among others, we have this very curious and beautiful
statement: "There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they
are exceeding wise; the ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare
their meat in the summer; the conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they
their houses in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet go they forth all
of them by bands; the spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings'
palaces." To the same class may be referred the following paragraph in the
third chapter of Ecclesiastes: "To every thing there is a season, and a
time to every purpose under the heaven: a 'time to be born, and a time to
die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time
to kill, and a time to heal: a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time
to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a
time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and
a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to
love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

Enigmatical questions and answers may easily degenerate into mere childish
amusement: but it is due to the celebrity of the queen of Sheba, to
suppose that her inquiries were principally directed to the great purpose
of information. She was indeed curious to _prove_ Solomon, to ascertain
whether his reputation for wisdom were the result of mere courtly
panegyric and flattering report, or whether it really originated in a
supernatural endowment--but still more anxious to acquire knowledge
"concerning the name of the Lord." While, therefore, she discovered a
laudable desire of information upon subjects connected with the
improvement of her mind, in general knowledge, and in political wisdom;
she aspired after a more intimate acquaintance with that heavenly truth,
which had hitherto been almost exclusively communicated to the descendants
of Abraham. In this she may be exhibited as a pattern for the particular
imitation of her own sex. No exterior accomplishments, no personal
attractions can reconcile an intelligent observer to an ignorant mind;
while such an one would be easily persuaded to dispense with external
beauty, for the sake of mental and moral worth. He would prize the jewel,
and overlook the inferiority of the casket. Curiosity is one of the most
powerful principles of our nature, and may be indulged where it is not
perverted. Let a woman assiduously cultivate, in early life especially,
her mental faculties, and cherish an inquisitive spirit upon all the
subjects of knowledge within the reach of her pursuit, still under the
constant regulation of modesty and her sister graces; and let her never
for a moment imagine, that knowledge is inimical either to her personal
happiness and influence, or to her domestic duties. So far, indeed, as an
intemperate persuit of learning disqualifies a woman for the sphere which
Providence has allotted her, so far as she is rendered proud, pedantic,
unsocial, assuming, and negligent of the proper business of every day in
her family, it is to be discouraged; not from the consideration that
_knowledge_ is an evil, but the _misuse_ of it. Its legitimate tendency is
to improve the female character--to polish off the asperities and
roughnesses occasioned by the indulgence of pride--to teach her the proper
duties of her station, and the best means of discharging them--to elevate
her into the interesting and intelligent companion of social and domestic
life--to constitute her the best instructor of her children, at that early
period when the first buddings of intellect are discernible, the first
tendencies of the mind begin to be developed, and the character for time,
perhaps for eternity, is to be formed. It is then under the hand of
maternal tenderness the model of the future man or woman is to be made;
for it is seldom, even in the most unhappy cases of apostacy, that traces
of this early formation are by any circumstances totally obliterated.

But while we plead for the cultivation of the youthful mind, by a diligent
use of all the advantages which are afforded to impart knowledge, be it
remembered, that the "wisdom which is from above" must not only be
sought--but sought _first,_ as of paramount importance. With all our
conscious superiority in other respects, if destitute of the knowledge of
"the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent," we shall prove
but as "a sounding brass, and as a tinkling cymbal." Our boasted
attainments, as enhancing our responsibility, will minister to our final
condemnation; and while imagining we have been defective in nothing, we
shall feel the everlasting remorse connected with the conviction of having
forgotten or despised the "ONE thing NEEDFUL."--

"'Tis Religion that can give
Sweetest pleasures while we live;
'Tis Religion can supply
Choicest comforts when we die."

Solomon conducted himself to the queen of Sheba in a manner highly worthy
of his wisdom, and instructive to those who are distinguished from others
by any natural or acquired superiority. He was neither reserved nor
impatient, but suffered her to "commune with him of all that was in her
heart. And Solomon told her all her questions; there was not any thing hid
from the king, which he told her not." It ill becomes those who can teach,
to be supercilious and uncommunicative. As the rich are required to supply
the necessities of the poor with a judicious liberality, being expressly
appointed as the trustees of Providence, and dispensers of its bounty; and
as those who withhold, when it is in the power of their hands to give, are
unfaithful stewards; so, persons qualified to be the instructors of
others, or who assume a station which presupposes such a qualification,
ought to exert their talents and employ their time for the benefit of the
uninformed. Is not this a lesson for the ministers of the sanctuary? For
what purpose is "heavenly treasure" committed to "earthen vessels?" Is it
not for distribution? Are they not made rich in spiritual gifts, graces,
and knowledge, that, instead of monopolizing their spiritual possessions,
they may aim to supply and enrich an impoverished world? The true
ministerial spirit breathes in the language of Peter to the lame man, who
was laid daily at the gate of the temple, "Silver and gold have I none,
_but such as I have give I thee_; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
rise up and walk."

Every thing her eyes beheld at Jerusalem produced, in the queen of Sheba,
surprise and admiration. Accustomed as all the eastern nations were to
splendour, she had never before witnessed such an universal and surpassing
magnificence. Solomon's wisdom--his house--his luxurious table--his
servants--his ministers--the temple, and the devotional manner of his
attendance upon its services, struck her with overwhelming astonishment.
When she had seen all these, "there was no more spirit in her."

It is easy to imagine that the TEMPLE, a structure which has been admired
in every age for its unparalleled glory, and for which such minute
directions were given by Jehovah himself, must have attracted particular
notice; especially when it is considered, that the science of architecture
was, at that period, in a very infantine state, compared to its subsequent
progress amongst the Greeks and Romans, and that temples were a species of
building probably unknown to the queen of Sheba. It is notorious that the
Persians, who worshipped the sun, erected no temple, from a persuasion it
would be derogatory to his glory who had the whole world for his
habitation; and hence the magi exhorted Xerxes to destroy all the temples
in his expedition to Greece. The Bithynians worshipped on the mountains,
the ancient Germans in the woods; and Diogenes, Zeno, and the Stoics,
expressly condemned the erection of such edifices. The Arabians rendered
homage to the sun, stars, and planets; and their religion resembled the
ancient Chaldean superstition. The illustrious visitor of Solomon must,
therefore, have been confounded at an architectural magnificence so
superior to any thing she had ever before witnessed.

The inspired historian also mentions the house of the forest of Lebanon;
his own palace, which occupied thirteen years in building; a house for
Pharaoh's daughter whom he married; with other expensive erections. "All
these were of costly stones, (according to the measures of hewed stones,
sawed with saws,) within and without, even from the foundation unto the
coping, and so on the outside towards the great court. And the foundation
was of costly stones, even great stones; stones of ten cubits, and stones
of eight cubits. And above were costly stones, (after the measures of
hewed stones) and cedars."

Josephus gives the following amplified description of these buildings:
"This house (the king's palace) was a large and curious building, and was
supported by many pillars, which Solomon built to contain a multitude for
hearing causes, and taking cognizance of suits. It was sufficiently
capacious to contain a great body of men, who would come together to have
their causes determined. It was a hundred cubits long, and fifty broad,
and thirty high, supported by quadrangular pillars, which were all of
cedar, but its roof was according to the Corinthian order, with folding
doors, and their adjoining pillars of equal magnitude, each fluted with
three cavities; which building was at once firm and very ornamental. There
was also another house so ordered, that its entire breadth was placed in
the middle; it was quadrangular, and its breadth was thirty cubits, having
a temple over against it, raised upon massy pillars; in which temple there
was a large and very glorious room, wherein the king sat in judgment. To
this was joined another house, that was built for his queen. There were
other smaller edifices for diet, and for sleep, after public matters were
over; and these were all floored with boards of cedar. Some of these
Solomon built with stones of ten cubits, and wainscotted the walls with
other stones that were sawed, and were of great value, such as are dug out
of the earth for the ornaments of temples, and to make fine prospects in
royal palaces, and which make the mines whence they are dug famous. Now
the contexture of the curious workmanship of these stones was in three
rows, but the fourth row would make one admire its sculptures, whereby
were represented trees, and all sorts of plants, with the shades that
arose from their branches, and leaves that hung down from them. Those
trees and plants covered the stone that was beneath them, and their leaves
were wrought so prodigiously thin and subtle, that you would think they
were in motion: but the other part up to the roof was plastered over, and,
as it were, embroidered with colours and pictures. He moreover built other
edifices for pleasure; as also very long cloisters, and those situate in
an agreeable place of the palace; and among them a most glorious
dining-room, for feastings and compotations, and full of gold, and such
other furniture as so fine a room ought to have for the conveniency of the
guests, and where all the vessels were made of gold. Now it is very hard
to reckon up the magnitude and the variety of the royal apartments; how
many rooms there were of the largest sort; how many of a bigness inferior
to those; and how many that were subterraneous and invisible; the
curiosity of those that enjoyed the fresh air; and the groves for the most
delightful prospect, for the avoiding the heat, and covering of their
bodies. And to say all in brief, Solomon made the whole building entirely
of white stone, and cedar wood, and gold, and silver. He also adorned the
roofs and walls with stones set in gold, and beautified them thereby in
the same manner as he had beautified the temple of God with the like
stones. He also made himself a throne of prodigious bigness, of ivory,
constructed as a seat of justice, and having six steps to it; on every one
of which stood, on each end of the step, two lions, two other lions
standing above also; but at the sitting-place of the throne, hands came
out and received the king; and when he sat backward, he rested on half a
bullock, that looked towards his back, but still all was fastened together
with gold." [38]

If human happiness were uniformly proportionate to the degree of elevation
in the scale of society, and the extent of worldly riches, some plausible
pretence might be framed for that eager ambition which characterizes so
large a part of mankind; but, if Solomon may be congratulated as
remarkably happy, this arose not from his being unusually rich, but
pre-eminently wise. In vain does any one expect substantial enjoyment, who
despises or neglects religion; while he who possesses it can never be
miserable. "Having nothing, he yet possesses all things." If it be not our
condition, but the state of our mind, that constitutes the blessedness of
life, exterior circumstances can neither confer nor deprive us of real
peace. The "contentment" which "godliness" imparts, is "great gain;"
because it renders its possessor, in a high degree, independent of the
vicissitudes that agitate this terrestrial scene, raises him above the
tempests of this transitory state of existence to a higher sphere, and
admits him into the very precincts of heaven. If Solomon had been endowed
with _wealth_, but remained destitute of _wisdom_, we should have looked
down upon his earthly splendour as a fading dream, or as the tinsel
decoration of a littleness which, by this means, became the more
contemptible; had he been possessed of _wisdom_ without _wealth_, we
should still have regarded him as the first of our species, and rich in
all the requisites of real felicity.

Having recovered from the ecstacy which the first impression of Solomon's
wisdom and magnificence produced, the queen of Sheba said to the king, "It
was a true report, that I beard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy
wisdom. Howbeit, I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had
seen it; and, behold, the half was not told me; thy wisdom and prosperity
exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy
servants which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom,
Blessed be the Lord thy God which delighteth in thee, to set thee on the
throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made
he thee king to do judgment and justice."

Many reflections occur upon reading this noble panegyric. Nothing is so
conducive to the true glory of a monarch, and the real interests of his
people, as an entire self-devotement to the proper business of government.
He who avoids the splendid course of ambition, to cultivate the arts of
peace, and to promote, by judicious regulations, the internal welfare of
his dominions, may not always glitter upon the page of history; but will
live in the hearts of his people, and be embalmed in their grateful
recollections. He will have the satisfaction, when commanded by Providence
to lay aside his crown, to leave to his subjects what is infinitely better
than extended empire, an _example_ worthy of their imitation.

It becomes us to recognize a superintending providence in the appointment
of rulers to their stations--to remember that "promotion cometh neither
from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south; but God is judge, he
putteth down one, and setteth up another"--and that the gift of a good
king is a mark of favour, and ought to excite a people's gratitude. It was
because "the Lord loved Israel forever," that Solomon was placed upon the
throne. Confining our attention solely to second causes, and the limited
horizon of the political theatre, we may frequently perceive nothing but
confusion--the struggles of ambition--the uproar of passion--the ravings
of impiety--the clash of arms--the subversion of thrones--the desolation
of provinces--the flow of human blood--and an interminable series of
changes, both unexpected and mysterious;--but when the light of Scripture
breaks upon the dark and troubled scene, it discloses the footsteps of
Deity walking in the midst of the storm, regulating all human affairs, and
rendering every occurrence subservient to his own omniscient purposes.
With these discordant elements he is moulding future events, and preparing
to exhibit to the admiration of the intelligent universe, "a new heaven
and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."

Comparing, further, the situation of the servants and courtiers of
Solomon, with that of others in Pagan countries, we cannot help uniting in
the congratulations of his noble visiter, and remarking the advantage of
religious connexions in general. Wicked association is the bane of human
society, and fatally conducive to the confirmation of evil habits and
principles, or to the excitement of them. Such persons, therefore, as are
connected with the people of God, who have pious parents or friends, or
who are servants in religious families, cannot be too grateful to
Providence, or too solicitous of improving their advantages. Let them be
attentive to the instructions they receive, and anxious to understand and
join in the devotions which are offered on the domestic altar.

But this congratulatory strain of the queen of Sheba may be applied to the
Christian age, and to "a greater than Solomon." Jesus Christ is "king in
Zion," and happy are his servants which stand continually before him, to
hear his wisdom; happy they who have "the glorious Gospel" in their
possession, and, by means of the evangelical historians of the New
Testament, witness the actions and hear the words of this divine
Instructor! The intelligence that distinguished the king of Israel was but
a single beam of light from the "Sun of Righteousness," by whom all
spiritual knowledge is communicated to the world--who is the fountain of
all wisdom, and whose glory will for ever irradiate and beautify a
redeemed universe. When believers ascend above this inferior state of
existence into the presence of God and the Lamb, notwithstanding all the
communications of inspired penmen in the sacred page--owing to the
imperfection of human language, and the circumstances of man, which, in
some cases, render further instructions _impossible_, in others
_improper_--such will be their discoveries of the glory of Jesus Christ,
that the language of the queen of Sheba will prove peculiarly descriptive
of their feelings, "behold, the half was not told me." And even here
experienced piety exclaims, "whom having not seen we love; in whom, though
now we see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with JOY UNSPEAKABLE AND

The queen of Sheba did not return to her country till she had given
Solomon a hundred and twenty talents of gold, besides a great quantity of
spices and precious stones; a present, for which the king made suitable
acknowledgments, by giving her "all her desire; whatsoever she asked,
besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty." Harmer remarks,
"this appears strange to us; but is perfectly agreeable to modern Eastern
usages, which are allowed to be derived from remote antiquity.

"A reciprocal giving and receiving royal gifts has nothing in it strange;
but the supposition of the sacred historian, that this Arabian queen
_asked_ for some things she saw in the possession of king Solomon, is what
surprises us. However, the practice is very common to this day in the
East--it is not there looked upon as any degradation to dignity, or any
mark of rapacious meanness.

"Irwin's publication [39] affords many instances of such a custom, among
very considerable people, both in Arabia and Egypt, though not equal in
power to the queen that visited king Solomon. They demanded from time to
time, such things as they saw, and which happened to please them; arms,
vestments, &c. What the things were that so struck the queen of Sheba, as
that _she asked_ for them, and which Solomon did not before apprehend
would be particularly pleasing to her, the sacred historian has not told
us, nor can we pretend to guess.

"Many other travellers have mentioned this custom, and shown that the
great people of that country not only expect presents, but will directly,
and without circumlocutions, ask for what they have a mind to have, and
expect that their requisitions should be readily complied with; while,
with us, it would be looked on as extremely mean, and very degrading to an
exalted character." [40]

This reciprocation of presents may be considered as illustrative of that
homage which it becomes every heart to render to the Son of God, and of
those divine communications of grace with which he will ever enrich the
believer. We cannot indeed enhance his glory by the most splendid
liberalities, or the most costly offerings; but he solemnly requires, and
graciously deigns to accept our penitence and our obedience. "The
sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O
God, thou wilt not despise." Whatever be the present state of the world,
it is pleasing to reflect that an omnipotent Providence is hastening the
triumphs of Christ; and to this wise and glorious King of Israel, all the
tribes of the earth shall ultimately present their best offerings and
their united affections. "The kings of Tarshish and of the Isles, shall
bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all
kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him."

But what shall be said to those who refuse submission to the authority of
Jesus Christ, and reject the blessings of his salvation? How pungent was
his address to the Jewish nation, and how applicable to such characters in
the present age! "The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment
with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the
uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a
greater than Solomon is here." The queen of Sheba only had access to the
wisdom of _Solomon_--but you have access to the wisdom _Christ_--she came
from a _very distant region_--but "the word is _nigh thee,_ even in thy
mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach"--she
came _uninvited,_ and upon the hazard of a favourable reception--but you
are _requested_ and _urged_ to come to Jesus, and partake of the
provisions which cover the well-spread table of his grace. His supplies
are spiritual, and therefore invaluable. He does not promise gold, but
dispenses "grace and glory."--He confers not the fading honours and
transient distinctions of this life, but the joys of _salvation,_ the
blessedness of _heaven_, the riches of ETERNITY!

The Shunammite

Chapter XIII.

Section I.

Characteristic Difference between profane and sacred History--the
Shunammite introduced--her Hospitality--Proposes to her Husband to
accommodate Elisha with a Chamber--the Gratitude manifested by the
Prophet in offering to speak for her to the King--her Reply expressive
of Contentment--various Considerations calculated to promote this
Disposition--Advantages of a daily and deep Impression of the transitory
Nature of our Possessions, and of keeping another Life in view.

How strikingly different is the course of profane and sacred history! The
former, searching out the most prominent characters that figure upon the
stage of life, exhibits them in pompous language, and, by emblazoning
their actions with the lustre of high-wrought description and extravagant
panegyric, conceals from view those moral blemishes which a nearer
inspection, through the medium of a more dispassionate narrative, would
discover in all their enormity. Hence the Alexanders and C├Žsars of the
world, whose mighty ambition, in marching to take possession of
unoffending empires, has trampled on the rights of man, the fruits of
industry, and the comforts of domestic life, and whose laurels are died
with the blood of humanity, have nevertheless had their names transmitted
with loud applause from age to age. High station, noble birth, great
talents, or marvellous exploits, though associated with daring crime,
constitute a sufficient passport to the historic page, which too often
extols where it ought to censure: and instructs us to venerate a name
which should rather be execrated.

Sacred history pursues a different course. It records, indeed, the actions
of the unworthy as well as of the pious; not that we should be roused to
rapturous admiration of their achievements, but, by tracing the dreadful
outline of their characters, and the fatal consequences of their guilt, be
incited to avoid their vices. In general, those individuals whom civil
history overlooks, are found in the inspired records, while "the mighty"
and "the noble" remain unnoticed. Some few instances, indeed, of the lives
of great men, in point of station and rank, furnish exceptions to this
observation; but they are introduced, not because they were _great_, but
because they were _pious_; or, if impious, because they stood connected
with the church of God. Scripture does not so much furnish the history of
the world as the history of the church and of human nature. It aims to
instruct, not to amuse or astonish; and that, by the exhibition of
characters remarkable in any respect for their efforts to oppose or to
promote the purposes of eternal wisdom, or for the exhibition, in a
private sphere, of those principles, the knowledge of whose diversified
operations might prove useful to posterity.

Shunem, or Sunam, a city of the tribe Issachar, would have been scarcely
noticed or known but for the residence of an opulent female, who is
Herself rendered forever illustrious in consequence of her friendship for
the prophet Elisha, and the eminence of her religion: but, though "a great
woman," her name is omitted in the narrative--of so little importance are
those distinctions upon which mankind value themselves so highly! She is
simply designated _the Shunammite_, after the name of her city.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 835]

The inspired narrator notices, in the first place, the warmth of her
hospitality, and its unabating continuance to Elisha. On a certain
occasion, when he went to Shunem, she urged him to visit her, which issued
in such a mutual esteem, that "as oft as he passed by, he turned in
thither to eat bread." Among the ancients, and in a simple state of
society, where the accommodations of modern travelling were unknown, the
entertainment of strangers was considered as one of the first of duties.
In all the Arab villages this necessary practice prevails. The sheikh, or
principal person, generally invites strangers to his house, furnishes them
with eggs, butter, curds, honey, olives, and fruit, when there is not
sufficient time to dress meat: and, if they choose to remain during the
night, they are treated with the utmost kindness. The Arabs value
themselves highly upon their hospitality. "How often," says one of their
poets, "when echo gave me notice of a stranger's approach, have I stirred
my fire that it might give a clear blaze. I flew to him as to a prey,
through fear that my neighbours should get possession of him before me."

The Scriptures furnish many examples of this duty. Abraham, in
entertaining three strangers, is said to have "entertained angels
unawares;" Lot received two angels into his house, who appeared as
strangers in the streets of Sodom: Job affirms of himself, "The stranger
did not lodge in the street; I opened my doors to the traveller;" a good
widow, in the apostolic age, is described as washing the saints' feet,
relieving the afflicted, and _lodging strangers_; and Gaius is represented
as receiving Christian ministers into his house as his own children.

Although a considerable difference of circumstances exists in more
civilized countries, and in this age, so as to render such an extensive
hospitality impossible, as well as in many cases unsafe; yet no change of
custom and no lapse of time can preclude the duty itself, or diminish the
force of the apostolic admonition, "be not forgetful to entertain
strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." If an
indiscriminate admission of strangers into the domestic circle might, in
our case, be productive of great inconveniences, benevolence requires that
those acts of kindness should be shown to others which comport with our
means and opportunities, and that we should aim at such moderation in our
usual expenditure as shall enable us to discharge the obligations of
Christian charity. How, otherwise, can we "do unto others as we would that
others should do unto us?" The wheel of Providence is perpetually
revolving, and who knows but that he who is now at the summit of worldly
prosperity, or in the full enjoyment of an easy competence, may soon be
brought down to the level of the needy; and, though he may be in a
condition to _confer_ kindness to-day, may have to _solicit_ it to-morrow?
Who can be insensible to the privilege of the Saviour's final benediction,
"Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from
the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat;
I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in;
naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison,
and ye came unto me."

The Shunammite did not entertain a stranger merely, but a prophet; and,
from the conversation of Elisha, doubtless derived that spiritual
edification which induced her to solicit his future friendship. Others
came, departed, and were forgotten; but religion in each heart converted
these strangers into friends, and cemented a holy union, which neither
time, nor change, nor death, could dissolve.

It is to be lamented, that the converse even of holy men in Christian
families is not always tinged with that piety which renders it as "a sweet
savour," and too frequently the ministers of the sanctuary fail to enforce
the admonitions of the pulpit and fix the sacred impressions of the
sabbath by "a conversation becoming the Gospel of Christ." What fine
opportunities do they possess of "winning souls to Christ," or "building
up the saints in their most holy faith," by the very nature of their
office, and the extensive private intercourse to which it admits them! It
would be well for _all_ to cultivate that sort of spiritual adroitness for
which _some_ are truly remarkable, who can, with the utmost facility,
glide from general topics of discourse to religious communications, which
are so piously, and yet so delicately managed, that the most hostile are
in some degree conciliated, and even pleased. The apostle of the Gentiles
thus exhorts Timothy, "Be thou an example of the believers in word, in
conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

This excellent Shunammite proposed to her husband to accommodate Elisha
with a _little chamber_ appropriated to his own use, with which he seems
readily to have complied. This is much to the honour of both; to the one
for her proposal, to the other for his compliance. It is a happy
circumstance where those who have joined hands are united in heart, and,
avoiding the spirit of domination, are equally anxious to fulfil the
respective duties of their domestic character. The ground of her
solicitation, was that of his being "a holy man of God," which, it is to
be feared, would prove a very decisive _objection_ to such a measure in
many families, who wish to conceal their gay and licentious habits from
such observance. The suggestion of this pious lady to her husband
respecting the accommodation of their agreeable visiter, may remind us of
the duty of women, 'to avail themselves of the opportunities with which
providence favours them in married life, to give such useful hints to
their husbands as their benevolence will naturally dictate. The
multiplicity of engagements in which the husband is involved, in the
prosecution of his daily concerns, often precludes those thoughts which
might issue in plans of public utility or more private kindness; while the
wife has leisure for this very important purpose. And to the honour of the
female sex let it be recorded, that the poor and the destitute are
indebted to the ladies of Britain for originating, and in many cases
carrying into execution, some of the noblest schemes of Christian charity.

Separate buildings, resembling the prophet's chamber, are frequently
attached to houses in the East, sometimes rising a story higher than the
house, at other times consisting of one or two rooms and a terrace: others
are built over the porch or gateway, having most of the conveniences
belonging to the house itself: they communicate by a door, into the
gallery of the house, which the master of the family opens or shuts at
his pleasure; besides another door, which opens from a private staircase
immediately into the porch or street, without giving the least disturbance
to the house. These back-houses are called _olee_ or _oleah_, and in them
strangers are usually lodged and entertained. The little chamber built by
the Shunammite for Elisha was probably of this description. To this he had
free access, without interfering with the family, or being interrupted by
them in his devotions, and from it he might privately retire whenever he
pleased. [42]

The peculiar simplicity of the furniture in the prophet's chamber cannot
fail of striking attention: it consisted of a _bed_, a _table_, a _stool_,
and a _candlestick._ This scanty fitting up of his room is by no means to
be attributed to disrespect or negligence: it is rather to be considered
as characteristic of the simplicity of the times. The intention certainly
was to accommodate Elisha in a manner expressive of reverence and esteem.
The original term, unhappily rendered _stool_ in our English version,
signifies one of the most honourable kind of seats usually placed in an
apartment, and is sometimes translated _throne_. In ancient times, the
nations of the East were not so universally addicted as they are at
present to sitting on the ground upon mats or carpets, but accustomed
themselves to raised seats or chairs, which were sometimes sufficiently
elevated to require a footstool. The _candlestick_ is likewise to be
considered as a mark of respect, if not of magnificence, and its
particular use was to keep a light burning the whole night. Dr. Chandler
mentions a lamp being placed in his room for this purpose in the house of
a Jew, who was vice-consul for the English nation, at the place where he
landed when about to visit the ruins of Asia Minor.[43]

In general, however, the prophets chose to live in the plainest manner:
they built their houses with their own hands, and wore a coarse dress of a
dark brown colour. Instead of availing themselves of the opportunities
with which they were often presented of acquiring riches, or of
frequenting the luxurious tables of the great, they sometimes refused the
most valuable presents. Of this we have a remarkable specimen when Elisha
declined the gifts of Naaman, and inflicted a dreadful punishment upon
Gehazi for his contrivance to secure them. If the mean attire and mode of
living which distinguished the ancient prophets cannot be viewed in the
light of an authoritative example to future ages, and if something may be
reasonably conceded to the practices of different nations, this may be
received as an axiom, that those whom Providence has appointed to the
sacred office ought to avoid all unnecessary show in their appearance, and
all ambitious aspiring after the vain splendours of life; for "the fashion
of this world passeth away." On the other hand, it is the duty, and should
be considered as the privilege of pious individuals, to whom Providence
has dispensed riches or competence, to minister to the necessities of the
poor servants of God, who, while devoting their lives to promote their
spiritual comfort, and that of their families, have neither time nor means
to rescue themselves from a state of dependence and poverty. "If they have
been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister
unto them in carnal things."

Elisha was not insensible to all this kindness, but, on the contrary,
feeling anxious to devise some means of requiting it, he intimated,
during one of his visits, his wish to render his hostess any service in
his power, and proposed what he thought might be the most acceptable;
"Behold," said he, "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?" It is gratifying to find that Elisha possessed so
much influence at court, and that Jehoram, though an impious prince,
honoured the man of God. But, perhaps, the king of Israel was more
influenced in his attachment by the miracle which the prophet had lately
performed in his favour, and the victory he had promised to him and his
royal friends Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom, than by any proper regard
to his person or his office.

The answer of this Shunammite to the prophet's proposal was brief, but
expressive: it indicated a mind full of contentment, and actuated in all
its liberal devices by the purest motives. "I dwell," said she, "among
mine own people;" _q. d_. "I am satisfied with my lot--I am happy in the
circle in which I move--I have no wish to emerge from obscurity, persuaded
that though I or my family might gain in point of distinction or wealth by
your kind interference, we should lose a considerable portion of that real
comfort which, in our estimation, is better than the greatest of earthly

The sentiment of this pious lady is to be distinguished from the opinion
which has prevailed in some parts of the world, that the perfection of
religion consists in a total retirement from the intercourse of life to
the cell of the monk or the cave of the hermit, and in passing the days
and nights of existence in mere speculative contemplation. That separation
from the world which the word of God enjoins, is a separation of
_spirit_, a withdrawment of the affections from its criminal pursuits and
guilty indulgences. It does not interdict all intercourse with mankind, or
censure a diligent pursuit of business, but inculcates purity of
character, and teaches us so to act in the particular sphere assigned us
by the arrangements of Providence, that "our good works," may be "seen,"
and our "light" may "shine before men."

Religion is not an abstract principle, or a mere speculation; it is
operative: God is its source and end, but society its proper sphere of
action. In circumstances of perplexity and trial its real nature is best
developed, as conquering the irregularity of desire, pacifying the
turbulence of passion, purifying all the principles of the corrupt heart,
and forming men into the future associates of angels and "saints in
light." The Shunammite did not retire from her people, her family, or her
friends; but "_dwelt_ amongst them," exemplifying those virtues which
adorn domestic and social life, and securing, as we may infer from her
expressions, that general esteem which such exalted goodness is calculated
to procure. She discharged scrupulously and zealously the appropriate
duties of her situation, and shone in the orbit allotted to her by Him
whose infinite wisdom disposes all the arrangements of the natural and
moral worlds, with conspicuous brightness and useful influence.

Moreover, the language in question presents us with one of the finest
specimens of contentment in the records of history. It may be affirmed
without hesitation, that nothing can secure the exercise of this temper,
in the present constitution of the human mind, but genuine religion. In
cases where no such principle exists, dissatisfaction imbitters the cup of
our earthly portion, and all those ambitious feelings which agitate and
distress the life of man, acquire an uncontrolled ascendency. The
discourse of Pyrrhus with Cineas is only a transcript of the impatient
ambition of the generality of mankind. "If it please Heaven that we
conquer the Romans," said the philosopher, "what use, sir, shall we make
of our victory?"--"Cineas," replied the king, "your question answers
itself. When the Romans are once subdued, there is no town, whether Greek
or Barbarian, in all the country, that will dare to oppose us; but we
shall immediately be masters of all Italy, whose greatness, power, and
importance, no man knows better than you." Cineas, after a short pause,
continued, "But after we have conquered Italy, what shall we do next,
sir?" Pyrrhus, not yet perceiving his drift, replied, "There is Sicily
very near, and stretches out her arms to receive us; a fruitful and
populous island, and easy to be taken: for Agathocles was no sooner gone,
than faction and anarchy prevailed among her cities, and every thing is
kept in confusion by her turbulent demagogues."--"What you say, my
prince," said Cineas, "is very probable; but is the taking of Sicily to
conclude our expeditions?"--"Far from it," answered Pyrrhus, "for if
Heaven grant us success in this, _that success shall only be the prelude
to greater things_. Who can forbear Libya and Carthage, then within reach,
which Agathocles, even when he fled in a clandestine manner from Syracuse,
and crossed the sea with a few ships only, had almost made himself master
of? And when we have made such conquests, who can pretend to say that any
of our enemies, who are now so insolent, will think of resisting us?" "To
be sure," said Cineas, "they will not; for it is clear that so much power
will enable you to recover Macedonia, and to establish yourself
uncontested sovereign of Greece. But when we have conquered all, what are
we to do then?"--"Why then, my friend." said Pyrrhus, laughing, "we will
take our ease, and drink, and be merry." Cineas, having brought him thus
far, replied, "And what hinders us from drinking and taking our ease NOW,
_when we have already those things in our hands at which we propose to
arrive through seas of blood, through infinite toils and dangers, through
innumerable calamities, which we must both cause and suffer?_" [44]

One motive to contentment, which probably influenced the Shunammite, and
which is calculated to inspire a similar feeling in every situation, arose
from the conviction, that _happiness is much more equally diffused than we
commonly imagine_.

Whatever may be the diversities of human condition, and however preferable
the situation of some above others may _seem_, to an inexperienced or
careless observer, looking only at the _exterior_ of society, Providence
has so wisely adjusted its various inequalities, that it becomes extremely
difficult to determine who possesses the most happy lot. Wherever
particular advantages exist, they are balanced by proportionate evils, and
the reverse: the golden cup often contains a bitter potion, while sweet is
the draught and refreshing the supply, that is brought in a broken
pitcher. The poor are apt to suppose, that opulence furnishes an
inexhaustible fund of enjoyment; and that luxurious tables, sumptuous
palaces, and a splendid retinue, confer a never-failing enjoyment;
forgetting that riches create a thousand artificial wants, a thousand
fantastic desires, which it is utterly impossible to supply. The wealthy
look with pity upon the indigent, as condemned to an irksome and perpetual
drudgery, and destitute of all means of enjoying life; a pity they might
well spare, did they know that labour sweetens rest, and that unpampered
appetite has none of those loathings which luxury superinduces. Riches and
poverty are not then, according to the miscalculations of mankind, terms
of synonymous import with happiness and misery. The most exalted have many
afflictions, the most depressed many comforts. The shafts of envy fly over
the lowly cottage, and smite the towers of greatness; and while the
peasant sleeps soundly in his humble cottage,

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

It has been well remarked by Bishop Hopkins, that "there is scarcely any
condition in the world so low, but may satisfy our _wants_; and there is
no condition so high, as can satisfy our _desires_. If we live according
to the law of nature and reason, we shall never be poor; but if we live
according to fond opinion and fancy, we shall never be rich."

The diversities of our temporal condition, therefore, illustrate the
remark which Solomon has connected with very important advice; "In the day
of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider; _God also
hath set the one over against the other_, to the end that man should find
nothing after him."

Independently of these considerations, it may be questioned whether that
change after which so many eagerly aspire, would really conduce to their
happiness. The probability is, that _any_ material alteration of
circumstances is unfavourable to enjoyment, and that our respective
destinies are so wisely arranged, that each one is, upon the whole, most
likely to secure the greatest proportion of temporal felicity in the
sphere originally assigned him, than in any other. His habits, his views,
his friendships, are all fixed by his position and place in society, and
all his mental faculties have been trained, so to speak, to this very
spot. Any removal or change would be hazardous and more likely to impair
than consummate his happiness. After the growth of years, the tree cannot
be transplanted into another soil and air without long exhibiting symptoms
of languishing, and sometimes a total decay.

Another reflection calculated to promote a contented spirit is, that _if
we were capable of tracing the tendencies, connexions, and ultimate
results of all things as they are seen, by the eye of Omniscience, and
established by omnipotent power, we should perceive as much reason to be
thankful for what is denied us, as for what is bestowed_. The fancied good
which we are so eager to obtain would, in many cases, be a real evil in
possession. Our prejudices and passion prevent our forming a proper
judgment, and were not our heavenly Father influenced by a truly parental
solicitude for his people, the most fatal mischiefs would arise.

Providence has two ways of punishing a repining or an impatient temper;
the one is by _counteracting_ it, by placing the imaginary good beyond the
reach of attainment, and forcing back the wandering heart to its home and
its God, by disappointing its expectations of happiness in earthly
possessions. Such refusals, or rather obstructions to temporal success,
are indications of the purest regard, as parents, _severely_ kind, take
away from their froward children those destructive weapons which had
attracted them by their glittering appearance. Another, and a more
dreadful mode of inflicting necessary chastisement, is, by _complying_
with their wishes, and making them feel the insufficiency of what they
desired to render them happy. They "forsook the fountain of living
waters," and the "cisterns" they resolved to possess, prove to be "broken"
and empty. In this case, they suffer the double penalty of dissatisfaction
_in_ the imaginary good for which they had sacrificed so much, and of deep
remorse for a misconduct which has incurred the divine displeasure. It is
said of Israel, "he gave them their request, but sent leanness into
their soul."

In considering the _denials_ of Providence, it should not be forgotten,
that what is in part an evil, may be a good upon the whole; the amputation
of a disordered or fractured limb, as it necessarily produces great
personal suffering, is in part an evil; but, inasmuch as it saves life, it
is, on the whole, an important good. On the other hand, that which as in
part good, may, on the whole, be an evil; the rich cargo with which a
vessel is freighted may be considered in itself a good, but if it be
retained to the destruction of the vessel tossed by a tempestuous ocean,
and struck upon a sunken rock, it is, on the whole, a dreadful evil; and
yet, in the vast concerns of the soul and eternity, what multitudes act
upon this fatal principle--clinging to their treasures, though they sink
them into perdition!

It is obvious, therefore, that in order to understand the dispensations of
Heaven, it is necessary to know the circumstances of each particular case,
which the very limited extent of our present knowledge and capacities
renders utterly impossible; and it cannot be doubted, that if we were
acquainted with the _whole_ subject, the most afflictive events of life,
no less than the most pleasing, would be seen to form essential parts of
that great system of mercy, by which the universal Disposer is promoting
the ultimate and perfect felicity of all his children. "But let patience
have her perfect work," for eternity will discover these mysteries of
time. "_Now_ we see through a glass darkly, but _then_ face to face; now I
know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."

A third consideration, which, doubtless, influenced this contented
Shunammite, was, _the vanity of the world_. The wise have always
admitted, that the three principal objects of human desire, pleasures,
riches, and honours, when weighed in the balances of truth, are "found
wanting," and that, although the misplaced eagerness of mankind attributes
to them a thousand charms, they are in reality, but "airy nothings."

"As bubbles blown into the air," says Bishop Hopkins, "will represent a
great variety of orient and glittering colours, not (as some suppose) that
there are any such really there, but only they appear so to us, through a
false reflection of light cast upon them; so truly this world, this earth
on which we live, is nothing else but a great bubble blown up by the
breath of God in the midst of the air, where it now hangs. It sparkles
with ten thousand glories; not that they are so in themselves, but only
they seem so to us through the false light by which we look upon them. If
we come to grasp it, like a thin film, it breaks, and leaves nothing but
wind and disappointment in our hands; as histories report of the fruits
that grow near the Dead Sea, where once Sodom and Gomorrah stood, they
appear very fair and beautiful to the eye, but, if they be crushed, turn
straight to smoke and ashes." If, from general reflections, we descend to
the particular details of life, it will still be found, that "while we
eagerly pursue any worldly enjoyments, we are but running after a shadow;
and as shadows vanish, and are swallowed up in the greater shade of night,
so when the night of death shall cast its thick shade about us, and wrap
us up in deep and substantial darkness, all these vain shadows will then
disappear and vanish quite out of sight."

The vanity of the world arises from the instability and mutation of human
affairs, as well as from the comparative insignificance of all its best
enjoyments. We say, "What a large estate does that distinguished
personage _possess!_"--vain word and false--he is only a tenant for a
day--to-morrow he will become the inhabitant of a sepulchre! What a
mansion is yonder!--what a lovely family! what prospects in business! what
admirable connexions! what charming society! O what an edifice of human
happiness is here!--The Providence of God blows upon the four corners of
the house, and it falls! "Here we have no _continuing_ city"--no fixed,
unalterable enjoyments--no permanent rest. Mutation is inscribed in
characters clear and legible to the eye of reason, upon all terrestrial
things; and so uncertain are our property, our health, our enjoyments, our
friendships, our ALL upon earth, that, as the thistle-down is scattered by
the gentlest breeze, these light and fair possessions may be wafted away
by the first wind that rises, or the first touch of unexpected adversity.

The impressive language of Scripture corroborates and illustrates these
representations. Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of
trouble. "He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as
a shadow, and continueth not." ... "Lord, make me to know mine end, and
the measure of my days what it is, that I may know how frail I am. Behold,
thou hast made my days as a hand-breadth, and mine age is as nothing
before thee: verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity.
Surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in
vain; he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them." ..."
We spend our years as a tale that is told." ... "My days are like a shadow
that declineth; and I am withered like grass," ... "As foreman, his days
are as grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth; for the wind
passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no
more." ... "Man is like to vanity; his days are as a shadow that passeth
away." ... "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and,
behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit." ... "What hath man of all
his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured
under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief, yea,
his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity." ... "Who
knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life
which he spendeth as a shadow! for who can tell a man what shall be after
him under the sun?" ... "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is
vanity." ... "Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into
such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain;
whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It
is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and than
vanisheth away."

A fourth reason for contentment, and which we cannot doubt influenced the
pious woman of Shunem, is to be derived from a _view of that future
happiness which infinite goodness has provided for the children of God_.
In the early period to which we are now adverting, "life and immortality"
were not so distinctly "brought to light" as they are in the Christian
dispensation by "the Gospel;" but from the day of the first promise of a
Saviour, the believing mind perceived the grand purposes for which he was
to descend into the world, and enjoyed some pleasing anticipations of that
paradise, which it was his prerogative to confer upon one of his
fellow-sufferers on the cross. If, as we believe, the Shunammite were
acquainted with the existence, and, in some degree, with the glory of a
future state; if with Job she felt convinced, that "though worms destroy
this body, yet in her flesh she should see God;" if she knew any thing of
that inexpressible charm which attaches to the blessedness of "a better
country," arising from its unfading permanence,--the language of
contentment which she uttered, was but the natural expression of a feeling
which such discoveries were calculated to excite. It was sufficient, in
her apprehension, to all the purposes of real happiness, to "pass the time
of her sojourning," among her "own people," without seeking those
distinctions which constitute only the vain decorations of a scene that
passeth away. Nor did her principles merely promote satisfaction with her
lot: they fortified her against the assault of temptation, a temptation
presented in the least exceptionable form, and recommended by the sanctity
of a prophet, who deliberately proposed to her an interference with the
king, or the captain of the host, for her temporal advancement. Her words
express an unalterable resolution of mind: "I dwell amongst mine
own people."

Every thing earthly possesses a character of insignificance from its
transitoriness, while every heavenly object becomes inviting on account of
its durability. A single hour may precipitate us from the highest worldly
elevation--the proudest laurel that ever decked the brow of the proudest
hero quickly fades; and he who sits out upon a journey of discovery to
find the extent of human enjoyments, will soon "see an END of all
perfection." But religion has laurels which never fade; crowns of glory
which pass to no envious successor. Religion does not lay her foundations
in the sand, but erecting her temple upon the shores of eternity, bids us
enter in, to "go no more out."

An apostle states, that "godliness hath the promise of the life which now
is, and of that which is to come;" intimating the certainty of the
existence of a future state, the nature of its felicities, and the
essential connection between the _pursuit_ and the ultimate _possession_
of it. The value of this promise respecting the life to come, is not a
little enhanced by its being accomplished precisely at that critical
moment when every earthly hope expires, and every human joy departs.
Godliness has, indeed, the promise of the life which "_now_ is;" but, if
it had _not_, the life which "now is" will soon terminate: the successive
generations of mankind are hastening to the grave; _our_ breath will soon
cease--our possessions must soon be left--our days soon covered with the
shadows of the last evening--all we fondly called _our own_ scattered to
the winds;--but at such a moment of desolation, the religion of Jesus
points to regions of deathless felicity. His voice seems to sound across
the gulf of death, in accents soft and sweet as the harps of angels, "I am
the resurrection and the life." And the "life to come" is no other than
the perfection of the Christian's life which "now is"--a life of love--a
life of peace, purity, and praise--a life of incessant activity in the
service of the blessed God. Hence his present spiritual life, is a kind of
pledge and promise of his eternal life; the pantings and breathings of a
holy mind after that world, are proofs that it is his _home;_ and the
believer in Christ becomes assured, that as he advances in spiritual
attainments here, he is making so many approaches, hastening by so many
steps, to the perfection and joy of eternity.

A few brief observations on the advantages resulting from a daily and deep
impression of the transitory nature of terrestrial possessions, and
keeping the scenes of another life in constant view, shall close the
present section.

1. This will tend to moderate our earthly attachments. Affections were
not implanted in our nature to be suppressed and extinguished. We may
love, but we must not love inordinately. Love must be proportioned to the
value of the object, and must be regulated by scriptural principles,
otherwise we shall commit offence, and suffer injury. There is a remedy,
and but one _effectual_ remedy, for the errors of the heart. It is
suggested by an apostle: "Set your affection on things above, not on
things on the earth."

2. A due impression of the present, and a just conception of the future,
will conduce to the purification of our moral principles. Intermixture
with the world, its business and concerns, and those solicitudes which
occupy the attention in reference to transactions merely temporal, tend to
vitiate the mind. In the pursuits of traffic we seem to live, as if we
were destined to live here always. The interests of a moment engross and
captivate the passions, and kindle ardours which burn with incessant
vigour. The mind is brought close to present objects, in consequence of
which they assume an unnatural magnitude, filling the whole sphere of
vision, and excluding external realities from view. The effect of this is
depraving: it contracts the soul, misdirects its energies, and blunts the
edge of its spiritual sensibility.

3. The sentiment we are wishing to inculcate will furnish us with
consolation amidst adversities, and reconcile the spirit to bereaving
dispensations. The present is a probationary state; and although the
particular mode of suffering be unknown, afflictions are not unexpected by
Christians. But whatever is transitory is tolerable--

"----the darkest day,
Live till to-morrow, will have pass'd away."

As their own condition is subject to vicissitude, they know also the
uncertainty of every other, and realize the possibility of separation from
their nearest and dearest connections. The severity of disappointment is
here diminished; for what cannot be retained, or is precarious, or _ought_
to be resigned, is dispensed with, if not without a sigh or tear, at least
without a resentment against the smiting hand of Providence.

4. This comparative view of our two states of being, and this just
estimate of their proportionate importance, will prepare us for our own
dissolution. The feeling that we have no fixed, no permanent abode on
earth, will familiarize the mind with the consideration, that "it is
appointed unto men once to die." If, when a fatal disease attacked the
constitution, we thought for the first time of our removal from the
present scene, the effect would be unspeakably painful, and hence arises
the despondency which often pervades the mind of such as have moved only
in circles of gayety and dissipation; but a Christian frequently meditates
upon the final hour. While looking at this or that valued possession, he
reflects, "I must soon leave it: the loan will, in a short period, be

Nor is this all. The prospect before him is exhilarating. "To die is
gain." If the death of a man resembled that of a beast, if the termination
of life were the extinction of being, the prospect would be inexpressibly
alarming: but the religion of Jesus confers a victory over every fear by
revealing immortality. A Christian knows there is something worth dying
for; and this animates him to walk with a firm step down "the valley of
the shadow of death." He is guided through a darkness impervious to
reason. A beam from the "excellent glory" lights him HOME!

Section II.

Elisha promises a Son to the Shunammite--his Birth--his sudden Death, in
consequence of facing sun-smitten--she repairs to the Prophet--her
expression of profound Submission to the Will of God--her subsequent
impassioned Appeal to Elisha--the Child restored to Life--the
Shunammite's Removal into Philistia, and Return--her successful
Application to the King for the Restoration of her Property.

Defeated in his benevolent intentions by the unambitious spirit of the
Shunammite, Elisha consulted his confidential servant Gehazi, through whom
the former communication had been made, respecting what could be done for
her benefit. Sincere as her refusal had been, he found it impossible to
satisfy himself without some further attempt to express his gratitude; and
upon the suggestion of Gehazi that she had no child, the prophet directed
that she should be again called into his presence. "And he said, About
this season, according to the time of life, thou shall embrace a son."

It is not improbable, that although Elisha addicted himself to great
retirement, Gehazi might be in the habit of familiar intercourse with this
pious family, by which means perhaps he found that they were anxious upon
this point; at least, if that spirit of perfect contentment which breathed
in the language on which we have already offered some observations,
influenced them on this as well as on other occasions, they no doubt had
intimated, in a moment of unreserved intercourse, that a child would prove
a most acceptable gift of Providence.

The brevity of the sacred history precludes that detail of circumstances
attending any particular transaction which it sometimes seems necessary
to suppose.

In the present case, it is not to be presumed that Elisha would have
ventured, _immediately_, upon the mere suggestion of Gehazi, to give so
important a promise to the Shunammite as that which is here recorded,
without first consulting the will of Heaven, or receiving some divine
intimation of an event which no human being could foresee, much less make
the subject of a solemn prediction.

Upon his announcing so unexpected a mercy, she manifested that sort of
incredulity which extreme astonishment blended with joy is calculated at
the first moment to produce; and the well-known effect of which accounts
for what, under other circumstances, would appear like disrespectful
language: "Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid."
She was too much acquainted with Elisha's character to intend to charge
him with deliberate falsehood; but her feelings were suddenly overpowered,
and consequently, she was at no leisure to weigh her words. The prophet's
prediction was completely verified; and she had a son, "at that season
that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life,"--"Lo!
children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is
his reward."

In reviewing the scriptural account of remote ages, we cannot fail to be
struck with several instances of the extreme anxiety of good women for the
possession of children; an anxiety which requires some other reason than
the general causes to be assigned for domestic and social congratulations
common upon such occasions. Sarah, for example, the wife of Abraham, was
induced by this desire to practise a piece of wretched and criminal
policy, in giving Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, to her husband. Rachel,
the beloved wife of Jacob, was so impatient of her own barrenness, and so
envious of her sister, that she exclaimed, "Give me children, or else I
die." The fact was, that they were influenced by the promises of God to
Abraham, whose posterity were to inherit the most invaluable blessings,
and from whom the Messiah himself was to descend in the fulness of time.
As in him "all the families of the earth were to be blessed," who can be
surprised that the most distant probability or possibility of introducing
him, who was to be "born of a woman," into the world, should excite an
ardent wish in every pious woman to become a mother? And here it must be
admitted, that whatever reproach the first transgressor might have cast
upon the female sex by her misconduct, it is forever wiped away by the
enviable distinction of becoming instrumental to a Saviour's birth.

The time hastened in which the Shunammite was to be subjected to a species
of trial different from that with which she had been hitherto exercised.
The congratulations of her connections on the birth of her child were
scarcely expressed, and her earthly happiness consummated, when she was
destined to suffer acutely by the death of her little favourite.

Those who have never felt a similar deprivation are necessarily
disqualified from forming any adequate idea of the bitterness of parental
grief, when the objects of their fondest solicitude are suddenly snatched
from the grasp of their affections. It is difficult to say in what period
of youthful history this stroke is severest, or when it is most tolerable;
because every point of age has its peculiar attractions, and parental love
will always imagine that to be the most afflicting in which the event
occurs. Happy those who can adopt the language of one of the sweetest
epitaphs that ever adorned a monument!--

"Liv'd--to wake each tender passion,
And delightful hopes inspire;
Died--to try our resignation,
And direct our wishes higher:--

"Rest, sweet babe, in gentle slumbers,
Till the resurrection morn;
Then arise to join the numbers,
That its triumphs shall adorn.

"Though, thy presence so endearing,
We thy absence now deplore;
At the Saviour's bright appearing,
We shall meet to part no more.

"Thus to thee, O Lord, submitting,
We the tender pledge resign;
And, thy mercies ne'er forgetting,
Own that all we have is thine." [45]

It is not unusual for the providence of God to deprive us of those objects
we had too exclusively and too fondly called _our own_, and the long
enjoyment of which we had confidently anticipated. This is no capricious
proceeding: it is marked by wisdom and goodness, since our real happiness
depends on the regulation of those passions which, but for such
dispensations, would rove with unhallowed eccentricity from the chief
good. It is necessary that we should be trained in the school of
adversity; and that by a course of corrective discipline, nicely adapted
to each particular case, our characters should be gradually matured for a
nobler existence.

The manner in which the calamity to which we have referred overtook the
Shunammite, is thus detailed by the faithful pen of inspiration. "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."

From this brief statement it is evident that this child was smitten by the
sun, in consequence of exposing himself in the harvest field to the
intensity of the season. In northern climates it is difficult to realize
the danger; but in the torrid zone great precaution is necessary to avoid
such calamities. Observing the effects of the sun's rays, Apollo is
represented, in heathen mythology, as holding a bow, and shooting his
arrows upon the earth.

"Pay sacred reverence to Apollo's song,
Lest watchful the far-shooting god emit
His fatal arrows."

PRIOR'S Callimachus.

The heat in some parts of Judea has often proved fatal, even at a very
early period of the year. In a battle fought by king Baldwin IV. near
Tiberias in Galilee, as many are said to have died in both armies by the
heat as by the sword; and an ecclesiastic of eminence, although carried in
a litter, expired under mount Tabor, near the river Kishon, in consequence
of the excessive heat. Shunem was in the neighbourhood of Tabor. [46]

As soon as the Shunammite found that her son was dead, she took him to
the prophet's chamber, and laying him on his bed, shut the door and
departed. The only reason of this proceeding probably was, its being the
most retired part of the house, and therefore the best suited to such a
melancholy occasion. But who can express the yearnings of her maternal
tenderness, when she left behind her this precious, but now insensible
clay! That tongue which had so often pleased her by its innocent prattle,
so often uttered

----"the fond name
That wakes affection to a flame,"

was now silent in death; and those artless and attractive smiles, which to
a mother's heart were more lovely than the looks of the morning, were
subsided into the fixed and motionless aspect of one whose spirit has
ceased to animate the body.

An impatient temper might have invented many reasons for discontent, on
this affecting occasion. It might have reproached the father for
permitting the child to accompany him, at this sultry season, into the
harvest field--the child for an infantine eagerness to go--or herself for
indiscreetly allowing of so dangerous a gratification. A comparison of the
happier lot of other families might have been drawn, whose children went
out on the same day, and returned unsmitten by the infectious atmosphere,
or the burning sun; and by aggravating the painful peculiarity of her own
affliction, she might thus have driven the barbed arrow still deeper in
her bosom, and censured, at least by implication, the Supreme Disposer.
But we have to admire a conduct which bespeaks the fullest conviction that
it was a _providence_ and not a _casuality_ that occasioned the death of
her beloved offspring, and evinces the most entire acquiescence in the
mournful event.

While our attention is confined solely to second causes, the mind will be
involved in a labyrinth of difficulties, in judging of the changes and
trials incident to the present life; but when our faith ascends above this
low and limited scene, to contemplate the arrangements of an universal
Providence, the deepest mysteries become unravelled, and the greatest
seeming inconsistencies in a considerable degree reconciled. Or, if we
cannot develope the whole plan, and ascertain the reason of every movement
of almighty Wisdom, we at least acquire a spirit of submission and

Some persons are so overwhelmed by their sorrows as to be totally
disqualified for their duties: but, although the world may applaud this
acute sensibility, religion condemns it. As the effect of mere passion, it
has nothing in it which can secure the approbation of God; on the
contrary, it is offensive to him, who, while he permits us to weep, does
not allow us to despond, and who often sees it best to humble a refractory
spirit by a repetition of chastisement.

This excellent Shunammite, after making the necessary arrangements for her
poor departed son in the prophet's chamber, instead of sitting down to
indulge her own melancholy feelings, or court the compassion of her
domestics and friends, despatched a messenger to her husband, to request
that a servant might be sent to her with one of the asses, for the purpose
of going to pay a visit to the man of God. As she had not told him the
motive of this sudden determination, he remonstrated, because it was
"neither new moon nor sabbath," that is, neither the usual time of secular
or sacred journeys. [47] He was, however, easily satisfied when she
intimated that she had a good reason for wishing to pay this visit. "She
said, It shall be well."

"See," says pious Matthew Henry, "how this husband and wife vied respects;
she was so _dutiful to him_ that she would not go till she had acquainted
him with her journey, and he so _loving to her_ that he would not oppose
it, though she did not think it fit to acquaint him with her business."

Equipped according to the eastern mode of travelling, the Shunammite
mounted an ass, and ordered the man appointed to attend her and goad on
the animal, to make all possible haste to mount Carmel. As soon as Elisha
saw her coming, he sent Gehazi to salute her with these inquiries: "Is it
well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?"
As she came at so unexpected a moment, and with such evident haste, the
prophet was naturally apprehensive that some calamity had befallen her,
and, as he felt a deep interest in all her concerns, first inquired
respecting what he well knew lay near her heart, the welfare of her
family. Her reply was short, but remarkable: "IT IS WELL."

Some have considered this merely as an evasive answer, made for the
purpose of avoiding conversation with Gehazi, with whom she did not wish
to enter into the particulars of her present situation. This, however, is
an improbable interpretation, because it would by no means comport with
the general integrity of her character, nor with the respect which was
due, and which we know she cherished, for the prophet. This was doubtless
the message with which Gehazi returned to his master, who, from his
ignorance of her precise circumstances, could not, till her own subsequent
explanation, comprehend the elevated sentiments implied in such a general
reply. A pious mind in similar circumstances would not hesitate to affirm,
"_It is well_"--_well_ with the living--_well_ with the dead--_well_ with
those who, notwithstanding all their bereavements, are under the care of
Heaven and enjoy the smiles of God--_well_ with those whose disembodied
spirits, escaped from the imprisonment of time, have ascended to the
unfettered freedom, the unbounded felicity, of eternity.

In this view the Shunammite recognized the sovereignty of God; his
indisputable right to dispose of her and her affairs as he pleased. "Shall
the clay say to him that formed it, What doest thou?" The unbending temper
of infidelity will, perhaps, receive this as "a hard saying;" but it is
affirmed in the inspired page, and must ever be admitted by him who is in
his "right mind." Uncontrollable power, acting irrespectively of wisdom or
goodness, would be indeed a terrific idea, and must issue in a state of
universal anarchy; but the _perfection_ of that Infinite Being who
"sitteth upon the circle of the earth," secures the _righteous_ exercise
of the most irresistible authority; and of this we may ever be assured,
that although his arm is omnipotent, it is never unmerciful.

The Shunammite intended also to express her confidence in the goodness of
God, however disguised by the afflictive nature of his dispensations. In a
proper state of mind it will not be requisite, in order to produce
resignation, that we should comprehend the whole design of every sorrow.
We should bow to the mysteriousness of the event; and the patience of our
endurance will not depend on the full developement and explanation of the
mystery. Whether events accord with our wishes or oppose them, "It is THE
LORD" will strike us into silence and submission.

Upon this subject the declarations of the Scriptures are most encouraging.
They affirm, that "he doth not willingly afflict or grieve the children of
men"--that their own benefit requires the chastisement, of whatever
description it may be--that not a needless sigh heaves the human bosom, or
an unnecessary tear is made to flow--and that "all things work together
for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to
his purpose." It cannot be doubted, that the all-wise Disposer could, if
he had pleased, have prevented a single cloud from rising to darken the
Christian's day, and by the interdictions of his Providence, as formerly
by the blood sprinkled upon the door-posts of Israel in Egypt, have
secured his people from the visitation of all the messengers of wo; but he
knows that affliction is conducive to our real welfare, that it is a means
of improving our character, and of preparing us for that state of perfect
enjoyment where it shall be no longer necessary; and that it furnishes
occasion for the exercise of those graces which adorn the Christian's
character, and glorify his God.

"We should endeavour," to use the words of a profound writer, "not to be
distressed about any thing, but to take every event for the best. I
apprehend this to be a duty, and the neglect of it to be a sin: for in
truth, the reason why sin is sin, is merely because it is contrary to the
will of God. If, therefore, the essence of sin consists in having a will
contradictory to the known will of God, it seems clear to me, that when he
discovers his will to us by events, we sin if we do not conform ourselves
to it." Again, "Our own will, though it should obtain all it can wish,
would never be contented; but we are contented from the very instant that
we renounce it. We never can be contented with it," [48] nor otherwise
than contented without it.

It is highly proper to investigate the causes of our sorrows, to inquire
how far they are occasioned by any thing sinful in ourselves. It becomes
us to be humble and penitent before God, when we discover that our own
misconduct has rendered it necessary for him who is "slow to anger" to
inflict chastisement. It is to be feared that while we abhor the blasphemy
of uttering the language of complaint, and of saying, like Jonah, "I do
well to be angry," we often do not suspect the criminality of cherishing
hard thoughts of Providence, doubting the propriety or repining at the
continuance of afflictive dispensations. There exists, perhaps, a secret
suspicion of his goodness, a latent spirit of revolt, which we dare not
express, or which we flatter ourselves, because we give it another name,
that we do not cherish.

The people of God sometimes receive affliction with a gaze of wonder, as
if it were the most unlikely of all occurrences. We feel no surprise when
it attacks _others_, but live in the true spirit of the poet's

"All men think all men mortal but _themselves_."

In general terms we even acknowledge that we are not exempted; and yet,
when actually visited by personal or relative troubles, we seem like a
traveller suddenly overtaken by a thunderstorm; all is confusion and
alarm: our faith, and hope, and joy, take wing, and leave us solitary and
sad. In our alarm we forget God, think it "strange," brood with a
melancholy, but guilty pleasure, over our sufferings, and act as if we
thought that "God had forgotten to be gracious." But "let them that suffer
according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in
well doing, as unto a faithful Creator."

"Four things," observes Melancthon, "ought to be well impressed upon our
minds respecting afflictions.

"1. They are appointed. We do not suffer affliction by chance, but by the
determinate counsel and permission of God.

"2. By means of affliction God punishes his people; not that he may
destroy them, but to recall them to repentance and the exercise of faith;
for afflictions are not indications of displeasure, but of kindness--'He
willeth not the death of a sinner.'

"3. God requires us to submit to his afflictive dispensations, and to
expend our indignation and impatience upon our own sins; and, since he
determines to afflict his church in the present state, submission tends to
glorify his name.

"4. Resignation, however, is not all; he requires faith and prayer, that
we may both seek and expect divine assistance. Thus he admonishes us,
'Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will answer thee, and thou shalt
glorify me.'

"These four considerations are applicable to all our afflictions, and are
calculated, if properly regarded, to produce that truly Christian
patience, which essentially differs from mere philosophical
endurance." [49]

As soon as the Shunammite came to Elisha, she fell at his feet and
embraced them. Gehazi attempted to thrust her away, but the prophet told
him to desist, intimating that he perceived she was in some deep
affliction with which he was unacquainted. Then bursting out in the abrupt
language of impassioned grief, she exclaimed, "Did I desire a son of my
lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?"

If these words wear a complaining aspect, we must make allowance for the
strength of maternal feelings; perhaps, too, notwithstanding her
characteristic equanimity of temper, and the elevated piety of her mind,
she was betrayed, in this instance, into some degree of impatience. It is
remarkable, that some of the most eminent of saints have failed, in
particular periods of their lives, in the exercise of those very
dispositions for which they are particularly celebrated. That faithful
page, which delineates the characters of men with perfect impartiality,
represents Moses, distinguished for his _meekness_, as in a state of
_violent irritation_ when he saw the idolatry of Israel; in consequence of
which he broke the two tables of stone to pieces on which the finger of
God had inscribed his own laws--Job, to whom sacred and profane history
have assigned extraordinary _patience_, in language the most emphatical,
"_cursed his day_"--Peter, whose _courage_ and _ardent zeal_ in the
service of his Divine Master were apparent on every other occasion, not
only _trembled_ before the simple intimation of a servant-maid that he was
one of his friends, but _denied_ him with _oaths_ and _curses_. Such is
the inconsistency of human character! Such are the shades that darken the
brightest names. Such the salutary warnings that preceding ages transmit
to those who have to follow the long train of heaven-bound travellers to a
better existence!

Let us turn our eyes for a moment from these specimens of mortal
excellence to Him who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from
sinners;" and who has left us "an example, that we should follow his
steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth ... who his
own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to
sins, should live unto righteousness."

Compassionating the distressed Shunammite, Elisha immediately adopted
measures to afford her effectual consolation. He commanded Gehazi to
hasten to the chamber appropriated to his use, and lay his staff upon the
face of the child. He was to avoid the usual compliments upon meeting
friends or strangers, in order that not a moment might be lost. [50] The
bereaved mother, in the mean time refused to quit the prophet, to whom she
was so much attached, and in whom she cherished such unbounded confidence;
and he, affected by her sufferings, arose and accompanied her home.

Gehazi fulfilled his commission; but finding no symptoms of life, he
returned to inform his master, whom he met on the way. "And when Elisha
was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his
bed. He went in, therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed
unto the Lord. 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; and the flesh of the child waxed
warm. Then he returned and walked in the house to and fro; and went up and
stretched himself upon him; and the child sneezed seven times, and the
child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this
Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said,
Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself
to the ground, and took up her son, and went out."

It is observable, that the attempt to reanimate the child by despatching
the servant to place the prophet's staff upon its face utterly failed,
possibly because "this act was done out of _human conceit_, not out of
_instinct from God_." [51]

Elisha, however, came, _prayed unto the Lord_, and succeeded in effecting
a miraculous restoration of the departed child. The grateful mother may be
classed among those who, through faith, "received their dead raised to
life again." How animating the prospect of that moment when almighty power
will be displayed in raising every human body from the grave, and
reuniting it with its kindred spirit in a state of deathless existence!
May we attain the "blessedness and holiness" of such as have "part in the
_first_ resurrection!"

Only one other circumstance is mentioned in the history of the Shunammite.
When Israel was threatened with a famine of seven years, Elisha forewarned
her of the danger, and advised her retirement into some place of security
and plenty. She accordingly removed with her family into the land of the
Philistines. At the expiration of this period she returned; but finding
that her property had become the prey of rapacity, or was alienated by
some royal edict, she applied to the king for its restoration. This was
perfectly consistent with her former character; for although she felt no
eagerness for worldly advancement, and, indeed, refused it, piety did not
require a total negligence of her civil rights, or of measures calculated
to preserve her and her beloved family from a state of indigency.

Providentially, at the precise moment of her application the king was

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