Project Canterbury





ON S. MARK'S DAY, APRIL 25, 1868


Keble College









Price Threepence.


Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007







This Sermon





APRIL 25, 1868





2 KINGS xiii.20, 21.

"And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet."

THERE are no other figures amongst the ancient prophets who stand out upon the canvas of sacred history as do those of Elijah and Elisha. The time at which they lived, and the circumstances of the people amongst whom they ministered, make this inevitable. For amongst the ten tribes, separated as they were from the Altar of God at Jerusalem, all the other ministries of the priesthood were swallowed up in that prophetic office which they held.

The characters, moreover, of the men were so framed as to increase this interest. About both of them, in themselves, and in their relation to each other, there hangs a veil of mystery, through which break forth strongly from time to time flashes of the brightest light. In them may eminently be traced that foreshadowing of the New Testament and its verities in the Old and its types, which so signally declares the common inspiration of the two volumes. With this key to unlock their mysteries, we find mutually illustrative truths in what might otherwise be treated as fanciful analogies; and we learn how minutely we must examine these oracles of God, if we would have them reveal to us their hidden wisdom.

Some such truths eminently suitable to our purpose today may, I think, be discerned by a careful scrutiny of the mystical characters, which in their brief and fragmentary form record the lives of these great prophets. Elijah stands first, the very embodiment of the older dispensation, grandly human both in his strength and in his weakness,--stern, dark, severe, unsparing alike to himself and to others, wild in outward appearance, his unpolled hair streaming over his massive shoulders, his strong gaunt limbs almost unclad; "the hairy man girt with a girdle of leather about his loins," hardened by long lonely fastings, the pride of [5/6] the flesh wasted by consuming drought--a terrible summoner to repentance, fearful even to the faithful, and with scarcely a word of absolution for the sinner, coming forth from the depths of the congenial wilderness to rebuke a king in the magnificence of his house of ivory, [(1) 1 Kings xxii. 39.] and to doom yet more ruthlessly the gorgeously-bedizened queen, as he gives her up to be eaten by the dogs; slaying with his own unpitying hand the viper brood of idol priests, calling fire from heaven upon successive companies of fifties, as they marched against him on their errand of persecution; and then, his work done, passing away in the chariot of flame upon his trackless path of mystery to reappear in the austere Forerunner, in whom the race of the Nazarites expires.

By him stands his successor in the great gift of prophecy, drawn at mature manhood from home life and peaceful employments by the casting on his shoulders of Elijah's mantle, the inheritor at once of his office, and of a double portion of his spirit. But though so near him, though the sharer of his ministry and witness, though bearing that witness in days of still darkening gloom, and closer coming judgments, yet is he in almost all respects an absolute contrast to his great master. If Elijah typified the old dispensation, Elisha typifies the new; if Elijah reappeared in the austere Baptist, the lines of Elisha's character and actions seem to be repeated and perfected in Him whom John announced. Instead of the rough denizen of the wilderness, he is a dweller amongst men; he "sits in his house, and the elders sit with him." [(2) 2 Kings vi. 32.] He is the habitual guest of the "great woman at Shunem;" [(3) 2 Kings iv. 8.] he is on terms of intimacy with successive kings; [(4) Ib. iii. 4; vi. 21.] when he falls "sick of his last sickness, whereof he dies," Joash the King of Israel comes down to him and weeps over his face." [(5) 2 Kings xiii.14.] Here is the life not of him whose raiment was of camel's hair, and whose meat was "locusts and wild honey," [(6) St. Matt. iii. 4.] but rather of Him Who came "eating and drinking," [(7) St. Luke vii. 34.] Who was present at the marriage banquet; Who joined in "Levi's great feast," [(8) St. Luke v. 29] and Who ate bread in the house of the Pharisee. All this difference, moreover, of circumstance accords exactly with the different impression of the presence of the man which the slight yet distinctive records of his life create in the mind of their reader. Almost the only marked act of severity in all that life occurs when he is fresh from the presence of Elijah--and shows like the last Thunder of Sinai; like "the earthquake and the fire" which died away in the "still [6/7] small voice;" like the last act of that sterner dispensation of which Elijah was the chosen minister, before, under Elisha's, it passed into the new. Around him breathes ever an air of benignity. He must kiss his father and his mother, even before he obeys the prophetic call; [(9) 1 Kings xix. 20.] he will not have the vexed woman thrust from him; [(1) 2 Kings iv. 27.] he sends away the perplexed, half-converted Naaman, [(2) Ib. v. 9.], cleansed and in peace; he pities and relieves the terrors of the young man his servant; [(3) 2 Kings vi. 17.] at the foresight of the evils of his country "the man of God wept." [(4) Ib. viii. 11.] Nothing, surely, can be more marked than the difference of all this from the whole terrible aspect of Elijah the Tishbite; it is the spirit, not of the desert-nurtured child of Elizabeth, but of the Nazareth-nurtured Son of Mary, Who was subject at Nazareth to His parents, Who would not have the Syro-Phoenician woman sent away, Who healed the Samaritan leper, Who bore with and enlightened the doubting darkness of his disciples, Who beheld the city of Jerusalem and wept over it. Though under the sway of the same prophetic power, the two forms wear these diverse aspects--each was fitted for his own work. The Divine Wisdom was justified of her children.

But it is perhaps in the character of the two prophets' miracles that this contrast is most vividly exhibited. Elijah's were few, and, with scarcely an exception, severe and terrible. He summons the drought and the famine to waste for three years and six months the rebellious land. [(5) 1 Kings xvii. 1. James v. 17.] Thrice he calls for fire from heaven. Twice for direct vengeance on Ahaziah's messengers, once as the prelude to the slaughter of the priests of Baal. His hands of power wield with familiarity and ease these desolating agents; and he is himself; as if he belonged to this family of portents, at last taken up in the whirlwind and the flame to heaven. [(6) 2 Kings ii. 1.] Elisha's miracles, on the other hand, are almost uniformly acts of mercy, and bear about them an even startling resemblance to the miracles of Christ. He heals the bitter waters, [(7) 2 Kings ii. 21.] multiplies the widow's oil, [(8) Ib. iv. 7.] restores the dead son alive to his grief-stricken mother, [(9) Ib. iv. 36.] feeds an hundred men through his servant's hand with loaves miraculously increased, [(1) Ib. iv. 44.] cleanses the leper, [(2) Ib. 14.] and even in his death gives life to the dead man who is thrust into his sepulchre. Here, beyond all question, is one of the many instances in which the truths and types of the New Testament are wrapped up and acted over in the figures of the Old. Surely, it is impossible to doubt that this strange similarity in their several [7/8] works of wonder was ordered for the special purpose of marking out Elisha's ministry as a type of that of Christ, and thus prophetically revealing what would be the greatest gift of God to His people--that Dispensation of His Son which Elisha's prophetic course was suffered so remarkably to prefigure.

When, for instance, we read in this light this miracle of the revival of the dead man, as in the sepulchre his body touches the prophet's bones, a wholly new significance is given to the record. Viewed as a mere marvel, there is much that is strange and almost disturbing about the narrative. It has something of that grotesqueness of character which hangs about alleged mediæval miracles, and, to our apprehension, at once differences them off from the miracles recorded in the Scriptures. But, read as a type of the coming Dispensation, how full is it of meaning! For, first: Elisha's death, instead, like the departure of Elijah, of being full of overwhelming awe, accompanied by the roaring of the whirlwind and the terrible pawing of the horses of fire, speaks only of the sleep of death and the awaking resurrection--while his sepulchre becomes the new tomb hewn in the rock wherein the Lord was laid. Humanity, scared by the perpetual incursions of the dark hosts of its spiritual enemies, by doubts and fears, and sins and devils, can do nothing better than bury hastily its dead out of its sight with despairing hopelessness. But the Lord of life has other purposes for His own. The dead corpse is thrust unawares into the Great Prophet's grave, and it revives. In that tomb the Lord hath lain. Angels have sat where rested the head which once wore the thorny crown, and the feet the nails once tore. Death is cast into that grave, and life comes forth from it. He who by death overcame death, from whose open tomb streamed forth our Easter lights, He gives back to fallen man his forfeited inheritance of life, and under the energy of that touch the dead revives and stands upon his feet. So that, here too, the likeness of the prophet's miracles to the miracles of the Lord is still maintained. The dead Elisha prophecies of Christ in His tomb, and of there issuing forth from it the majestic triumph-train of the general resurrection.

But again, there is surely in this miracle a prophetic symbol, not only of the one master-fact of the resurrection of the Christian man's body, but also of the provision made within the Church of Christ for the perpetual reviving of its highest life of dogmatic truth from the natural decay, corruption, and even death of langour, of formal literalism, of heresy and unbelief. To maintain this living truth is the Church's especial vocation. For this she was incorporated, for this she is the "city set upon the hill." Till her Lord comes again she is to [8/9] bear His witness, to maintain and ever hold on His truth, to be stuloV kai edraiwma thV alhqeiaV. [(1) 1 Tim. iii. 15.]

Now, to fulfil this office, two distinct lines of action are required of her. First, she must keep whole and undefiled the original deposit of the Faith. This one Faith is contained in the words of Christ, in the utterances of Holy Scripture, and in the Creeds of the universal body in which the truth is stored up in distinct propositions, which were framed under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, cautiously, accurately, lovingly, and surely, which were reached and tested in long conflicts with heresy, and were sealed with the blood of many a martyr. To this, THE FAITH, nothing can be added; from this nothing can be taken away. Addition or subtraction are equally fatal to the purity of that deposit, which may as easily be corrupted by the overlaying of developing addition as destroyed by the gnawing tooth of heresy and unbelief. For Divine truth has not been discovered BY man, but revealed TO man. Here is the fundamental distinction between the earthly sciences and the master-science of Divinity. In the earthly sciences there may and ought to be perpetual progress. Man is set in the midst of the vast alphabet of nature to learn its characters and spell out its mysteries. The discoveries of one generation are the groundwork on which the next stands; and so in these, antiquity is childhood and novelty is age. The philosopher who only repeats the older philosophy, who sweeps away no fallacy and adds no discovery, is but a feeble hand, scarcely holding in mere muscular retention half-polished brilliants. Novelty is the very life's breath of the sciences of the earth. But the Divine Science rests not on discovery, but on Revelation. God in His Being, His Nature, and His Attributes--the Mystery of the Divine Trinity--the Incarnation and its Wonders--the Cross and its Glories--the Resurrection and its Hopes--the regenerate life and the Indwelling of the Holy Ghost,--the knowledge of all these is God's simple gift to man--not the fruit of man's labour underneath the branches of the tree of knowledge. Therefore it is, that man can add nothing to, and take nothing from, but only guard inviolate the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints.

But the Church has a further office as to this Revelation, beyond merely guarding inviolate its terms and definitions. It is not a philosophy to be graven in hieroglyphics upon enduring adamant, or written in imperishable characters upon a rock; it is a Faith which is to be lived. Not all the words of the inspired oracles, nor all the Creeds of the Universal Church taken by themselves, make up THE FAITH; their truths must [9/10] be graven on the heart of a living Church; they must be reproduced in the apprehension, in the love, and in the life of succeeding generations, before she has done her work. This, and not the mere written record of the truth, though it be guarded with more than Jewish scrupulosity, is The Faith the Lord will look for at His coming. The souls of faithful men are the temples which enshrine it. There have been dark and dangerous times when such shrines were few, and they too as it seemed threatened with destruction. But they have never been extinct, and they have been the instruments in God's hand for perpetuating on the earth the Faith in its purity. In the very darkest time, all the light of God's truth has still dwelt within some living temple of His Grace, and cast its rays abroad, the brighter for the surrounding darkness. Arianism might triumphantly pronounce its dark and deadly error at a thousand altars, but, it could not touch the light God had kindled in the soul of Athanasius. The true dogma lived in the spiritual life of the hero Saint.

Nor is this all. God has provided not only that by their living testimony His saints should maintain His Truth, but that even from their tombs the same reviving power should manifest its presence. Their mighty influence for handing on the Truth does not die out with the natural life of God's great witnesses. Their names, their memories, their sufferings, their glories, live on and lighten after generations. For there are still, as of old, dark and troublous days, when the bands of the Moabites invade the land at the coming in of the year, when the free-thinker, and the doubter, and the neologian, and the carping critic, and the half-wise philosopher come up in companies by the way of the Dead Sea from the high places of their Moab, and still at such times from the desire of seeming liberal and free from narrow prejudice, or to escape the trouble of controversy, men are for burying hastily with cold compromise, and scarcely decent reverence, some great truth or other, because amidst the opposition of men it seems inconvenient and ill-suited to their times, and, so far as any good is to come from it, indeed dead: and so they thrust it in their speed into one of these prophets' graves; speaking of it as that which befitted his age, but which theirs had outgrown. And lo! even as they thus babble their ineptitudes, the very memory of the mighty dead rebukes sternly their short-sighted timidity, and the half-buried verity awakes again as from a swoon. Elisha's bones still do their work of marvel, and, to their wondering consternation, the old truth revives and stands upon its feet before them all.

Nor is it only the truth itself which knows this revival. Many a man, in whom the infection of unbelief seems to [10/11] have killed the power of witnessing for Christ, and whom the bystanders are ready to bury out of sight, when he is cast in their haste into the old prophet's tomb, is roused out of his death trance, and stands again a living man amongst the living. Truest of all is this through the long generations of the Church concerning the tomb hewn in the rock. How often has dead faith revived, when in some utter extremity of danger from the bands of Moab it has been cast back upon the death, and entombment, and resurrection of the Lord! How many a dead soul, driven by deep sorrow, by death's affronts, or by the world's unkindness, back again to that grave of Jesus, has there experienced in its own being the marvellous reviving of a quickened spirit. Evermore until the end, there for each child of the resurrection is stored against his need the mighty power of God. Yea, and from that entombment into every sepulchre of every saint along the line the Master's virtue has been poured: for by such instruments God's Holy Spirit works. How many have been quickened by the blessed memories of S. John, S. Paul, and S. Peter! How fruitful in revival have been the abiding presence with the Church of S. Ambrose, of S. Augustine, and of S. Athanase!

Happy is that branch of the Holy Church Universal, which is rich in such reviving memories! Of such memories, through God's grace, our own Church knows no lack. Even in these later centuries, amidst divisions which may well find their type in the broken kingdoms of Judah and Samaria, the seed of the prophets has been left amongst us, and, Elisha-like, their precious remembrance has awoke in many a heart the life of Faith. For to name no more or earlier saints, can we not tell, in thankful ascription, of all praise to God, of our Andrewes, our Hooker, our Ken, our Hammond, our Butler, and our Bull? Such an inheritance of worthies may well encourage us to make new, and yet new provision for keeping alive amongst us their undying Faith. And this we do to-day. In grateful memory of the past, in hope and prayer for the future, we set about our purpose. Under the presidency and guidance of the good Archbishop of this Province, the successor of so many grand occupiers of the marble chair of Canterbury, we seek, in days of peculiar danger, when the dark bands of Moabite invaders are more than ever frequent, to make fresh provision, if our God shall so enable us, for discharging with new vigour this twofold office of the Church, the guarding unimpaired the One deposit of the Faith, and the storing in reverend love one holy memory more, whence may issue forth to future generations these Elisha powers of mystic renovation.

The College, of which the corner-stone is this day to be [11/12] laid, is founded, First, that in it the One Faith may be for ever taught;--that in it true Christian theology may evermore be honoured as THE Divine Science; as the highest teaching for man's intellect, his heart and his spirit; that from this College, men so trained may issue forth to minister in the name and power of Christ unto His people till He comes again. With reverend hope, moreover, that from the memory of the Saint, whom, as on this day, God gave as a light to our Church in years of gloom, and to whose name we wed for all time this work of love, there may of God's grace stream into many a soul all the energy of the new life of faith. With that life, through God's goodness, after the true old pattern, his soul was full. Elisha-like he lived; no stern and terrible man dwelling apart from others, but one amongst us, such as we are, only holier, gentler, braver, more pure, more simple, more childlike, more patient, more complete and constant in the faith than we dare, alas! to hope we are; with a deeper feeling of humbleness than others have attained, cast over gifts of intellect greater than others have received. Such he lived amongst us,--poet, pastor, divine, scholar, friend; such he lived in this University; such amongst the schools of the sons of the prophets; such in his quiet parsonage; such amidst the great ones of the land, Elisha-like, healing many bitter streams, feeding many with the heavenly bread, giving back to hearts, taught by him to bow their wills to God's, the lost children of their love--such he lived, and such he died. And now that he has passed away,--from his peaceful sepulchre, from his enduring memory, by the echoes of those strains of sweetness, of love, and of power which his lyre awoke, by this College called after his name, Elisha-like, may he, though dead, yet speak--may he yet, of God's gracious gift, call up again into living power the mighty truths which man's unfaithfulness and fear from time to time will seek obscurely to bury; may he yet arouse souls dead in unbelief, kindling in them the resurrection life, and establishing them in its strength, so that they too may stand upon their feet, each one in his lot, in the blessed day of the Master's appearance!



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