A Prophet of Grace—ElishaWritten by Alexander Stewart Reviewed By Peter Milsom
This book was first published in 1925 and contains a series of sermons which were extended for publication. The author was one of the foremost expository preachers in the Scottish pulpit of his time, and for twenty years he was editor of The Monthly Record.
Each of the twenty-one chapters comprises a sermon dealing with an incident in the Elisha narrative. Though each chapter is complete in itself the book as a whole presents a unified picture of the life of the prophet Elisha. The book certainly serves to bring Elisha out of the shadow of his illustrious predecessor Elijah. Dr Stewart shows the contrasting and complementary aspects of their ministries. Whereas Elijah was called to bring a message of judgment, Elisha was pre-eminently a messenger of salvation. His name means ‘God is salvation’. The relationship between the two prophets foreshadowed the ministries of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of both prophets was conveyed not so much by their words as by their deeds.
Although the book is not technical the author indicates his competence in biblical interpretation and exposition, and is fully aware of the problems of the Elisha narrative. Anti-supernaturalism was strong in the early part of this century, as it is now, and Dr Stewart strongly maintains the authenticity of Elisha’s miracles. He writes, ‘The ministry of Elisha constituted an epoch in the spiritual development of the chosen people, and it is at such fresh starting-points in history that the miracles of the Bible usually appear.’ He also defends those miracles which are said to be of a more trivial nature than other biblical miracles, and shows their spiritual significance. His exposition of such difficult passages as the judgment on the forty-two youths (2 Kings 2:23–25) is thorough and helpful.
There are a number of reasons for commending this book to theological students, especially those training for the Ministry. Such a book is a good antidote to the dry intellectualism which theological study often fosters. This reviewer would have been greatly helped by reading these sermons when he was engaged in studying the finer points of the Hebrew text of the early chapters of 2 Kings in his degree course! It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are studying the Word of God, and that the end of this study is that we should know Him better and proclaim the message of salvation to others.
This book is also a good example of how to preach a series of expository sermons. The life of Elisha may not be the easiest place to begin one’s ministry, but the example of Dr Stewart will certainly assist and encourage anyone concerned to undertake the discipline of such a ministry. He does not avoid the difficult passages but brings great profit from them. It is also an encouragement to those who may feel unable to finely dissect every word and syllable of a passage, since he expounds the main themes and avoids a spiritualizing of every minute detail. His sermons illustrate good practical and pastoral application of the Word. He has much to say which feeds the soul and stimulates Christian living. He reminds us that preaching must be both theologically faithful and practically relevant.
Lastly, he has many helpful things to say about the work of the Ministry. He deals with the call and essential equipping for the work by God, and with the demands made upon God’s servants in every age. The book closes on a note of great encouragement for all Christians, especially those called to the ministry. Even after his death the beneficial effects of Elisha’s ministry continued. Dr Stewart writes, ‘The work of Christ is often difficult and discouraging. The soil is unyielding, and there is so little evidence of success, that sometimes the labourer is ready to give up in despair. Let us listen, then, to the voice that speaks from the grave of Elisha. “Do not give up,” it says; “keep on; let your light shine, and your life speak, and your hands cease not from toil. In the morning sow your seed and in the evening withhold not your hand. And it may be that when the grass is growing green over your grave, the fruit of that sowing will be seen in fields white unto harvest.” ’ A timely encouragement even to those in the enthusiasm of youth!
Deeside Evangelical Christian Church, North Wales