The Sons of the Prophets
“And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell WITH THEE is too strait FOR US.” (2 Kings 6:1)
The sons of the prophets stand as a type of a large class today, who demand our special sympathy and attention.
The contrast lies between the prophets and the sons of the prophets. The prophets were men of God, men of strong convictions, men who took a firm stand in their day. Look at Elijah standing against Ahab, Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. Look at Jeremiah and the continual risks he ran even of his life in giving God's messages to the people. Look at Daniel in the den of lions.
The sons of the prophets were their fathers' sons, but without their fathers' soul-history, and spiritual stamina. This can be said without attributing fault to them. They were born in a certain circle, and found themselves without effort in circumstances outwardly very much where their fathers stood. But they had not, and could not have, in the nature of things, the experimental knowledge of God that their fathers had, and so they had to learn what they did learn, be it much or little, for themselves.
In the same way, the wonderful movements of God's Spirit during last century resulted in deep exercise as to the truth on the part of many of God's people, and the deep exercise eventuated in decisions for the Lord, and many stepped out of systems and human organizations to put into practice the truth God had taught them.
Their children, brought up in the atmosphere of the truth, not called upon to fight for their spiritual freedom, but having things pretty well ready-made to their hand, find themselves outwardly in the position that their parents reached at considerable cost to themselves. They are in no wise to blame because they have not got the spiritual fibre of their parents in many cases, and it is not to be expected. Soul-history is not jumped into in a day.
But their very position, often beyond their apprehension of that position and the truth that governs it, exposes them to certain dangers, and it is possible that the consideration of the incident in 2 Kings 6 may be a help to some.
Evidently the sons of the prophets were youths who were placed under Elisha's charge for their training. One day they came up to him, and said, “Behold now the place where we dwell WITH THEE is too strait FOR US.” What a stab to the heart for the old man! Their remark certainly did not lack directness. They did not attempt to sugar-coat the bitter pill. They were dissatisfied with the room he could give them, and they thought they could do better for themselves.
Is this not like the tendency on the part of many of the dear young Christians today? They find the old-fashioned ways too narrow, and they want to broaden out and make things really move. We do not blame them for it, but we plead that they should listen attentively to what the aged and experienced Christian says. The young cannot do without the old—the old cannot do without the young. The young have energy—the old have experience. We want both.
Peter exhorted the elders in his day, not altogether as an apostle, but as “also an elder” (1 Pet. 5:1). He also says, “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another and be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5). This is the spirit we all—young and old—need. Remember how even the Apostle Paul had to lament, “All they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15).
Now it is true that if we are on earthly and carnal lines the truth will prove too strait for us. There is a place the Lord has formed for us as revealed in His word. There is the house of God upon this earth, the assembly, the pillar and ground of the truth. There nothing is made of man. The flesh is refused and everything is of the Spirit.
Let us follow our narrative. The young men asked Elisha that they might go to Jordan, take thence every man a beam and make a place “where WE may dwell.” It looked like shaking loose from the old man altogether.
The prophet replied, “Go ye.” He would not stand in their way. Wise old man, he saw clearly that they must learn their own lessons and not walk in the strength of tradition or anything of a second-hand nature.
But one of their number could not bear the thought of losing Elisha. They were prepared to turn their back upon Elisha's house, but not upon him. In grace and love he answered simply, “I will go.”
But what a difference! The young men had been with Elisha; now Elisha is with them. How often have we experienced that even going our own way in our ignorance the Lord has been with us, not as approving our course, but as caring for us. If we had been with the Lord how different it would have been. With Him in His ordering of things, instead of Him with us in our path of ignorance. “Safety is of the Lord” (Prov. 21:31).
We can and do believe that some of our young brethren, who find things too strait for them, have an earnest desire to serve the Lord. They would not knowingly embark on a career of sell-will. Ignorance is at the root of much difficulty.
Arrived at the Jordan the young men set to work. Sadly must the prophet have looked on, yet there was a link of affection between the young men and himself —they wanted his company, he bore with them in tender love.
As one was felling a beam, off flew the axe head, which fell into the river and quickly sank out of sight and reach. Deprived of his tool the truth came out. “Alas, master! for it was borrowed.”
Here we get into the secret of all the trouble we may have as Christians in the things of the Lord, whether as individuals or assemblies “Master, where dwellest Thou?” (John 1:38) was the query of the two disciples. “Come and see,” was the Divine invitation. The sons of the prophets found the place where they dwelt with the prophet too strait for them. We may find that to dwell with the Lord is too strait for us. It is not too strait for the Spirit. There all is blessed width and true liberty. But it is narrow, nay intolerable for the flesh.
“Alas, Master! for it was borrowed,” might be applied in two ways. First, to second-hand truth—truth intellectually grasped in the mind, but never having gripped the conscience and formed the affections. For instance, the truth of God's house, the truth of the church, the behaviour suitable to it, how much is it in mere terms with many, and therefore they naturally seek satisfaction in other directions.
Second, how often it shows itself in the additions of worldly methods in the service of the Lord. Choirs, solo-singing, duets, glees, oratory, social intercourse, athletics, etc., etc., are all introduced under the plea that we need to keep the many. But does it keep them? It only feeds what is not spiritual in them and strengthens that which tends to strangle the spiritual.
How many a movement has started on spiritual lines and God has richly blessed it, but these “borrowed” lines were introduced till the spiritual power in the movement was strangled, and now they stand as warning beacons to us.
These expedients are largely a cover for the lack of spiritual power, and they have the tendency of increasing powerlessness, as the Spirit is grieved, and thus making more room for themselves till the process is complete and you get philanthropy and not the Gospel, the culture of the first man and not the graces of the second man, and the way is introduced for— apostasy . Are there not these warnings in Christendom as plentiful as blackberries in autumn, and are we any better than our fathers?
It is not that bodily exercise is not profitable, for it is and has its lawful place, but let it not be linked up with what is spiritual. We are not dead to nature, but nature has its place in believers who are to be controlled and upheld by the Spirit of God; it must not therefore intrude into the things of God.
The young man, who lost his axe-head, turned to the prophet in his dilemma. He discovered he could not do without the prophet.
The man of God said, “Where fell it?” Being shown the place he cut down a stick and the iron did swim. In this striking action we get a type of the way God is working. The stick symbolizes the cross of Christ. The iron swimming as the result of the stick being cast in the water symbolizes that divine things are found in resurrection. That which fell into the water of Jordan, type of death, rose, type of resurrection.
It teaches that the old order has passed away, and that God is working on new lines altogether. It reminds one of Romans 6 and baptism. The believer goes into the water, and is buried with Christ by baptism unto death. All that we are as fallen sons of Adam passes under the condemnation of death. Yes, but we are baptized unto the death of Christ . If we had only been baptized in relation to what we are there would be no coming up out of the water, but seeing we are baptized unto the death of CHRIST , we rise because He has risen. This is morally true of us now but will be actually true of the saints who have fallen asleep at the resurrection.
But what is involved? Walking in newness of life . There will then be no use for borrowed axe heads, we shall be in the power of the truth and refuse as mischievous and corrupting these aids, that are outside the Scripture, and anything outside the Scripture is “borrowed.”
There the incident ends, and I am persuaded it has lessons for us.
May we never say to the Lord, “Behold now the place where we dwell WITH THEE is too strait FOR US.” It is not that we should ever dream of saying anything so bold as this, but in refusing to go on with the truth in any shape or form as revealed in the Scriptures, and adding to it human organizations and methods we say this in principle. May God continually exercise us on our knees as to His path for us, and may we be WITH HIM by His grace in all the blessed breadth and liberty of the Spirit.