Notice where the dead child was placed: "And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed." This was the bed which the hospitality of the Shunammite had prepared for Elisha, the famous bed which, with the table, the stool, and the candlestick, will never be forgotten in the church of God.
In reading on we find "He went in, therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord." Now the prophet is at his work in right earnest, and we have a noble opportunity of learning from him the secret of raising children from the dead. If you turn to the narrative of Elijah, you will find that Elisha adopted the orthodox method of proceeding, the method of his master Elijah. You will read there, "And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord, my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord, my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." The great secret lies in a large measure in powerful supplication. "He shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord." The old proverb is, "Every true pulpit is set up in heaven," by which is meant: that the true preacher is much with God. If we do not pray to God for a blessing, if the foundation of the pulpit be not laid in private prayer, our open ministry will not be a success. So it is with you; every real teacher's power must come from on high. If you never enter your closet and shut to the door, if you never plead at the mercy-seat for your child, how can you expect that God will honour you in its conversion? It is a very excellent method, I think, actually to take the children one by one into your room alone and pray with them. You will see your children converted when God gives you to individualise their cases, to agonize for them, and to take them one by one, and with the door closed to pray with them and for them. There is much with more influence in prayer privately offered with one than in prayer publicly uttered in the class—not more influence with God, of course, but more influence with the child. Such prayer will often be made its own answer; for God may, while you are pouring out your soul, make your prayer to be a hammer to break the heart which mere addresses had never touched.
After praying, Elisha adopted the means. Prayer and means must go together. Means without prayer—presumption! Prayer without means—hypocrisy! There lay the child, and there stood the venerable man of God! Watch his singular proceeding; he stoops over the corpse and puts his mouth upon the child's mouth. The cold dead mouth of the child was touched by the warm living lips of the prophet, and a vital stream of fresh hot breath was sent down into the chill, stonelike passages of the dead mouth and throat and lungs. Next the holy man, with loving ardour of hopefulness, placed his eyes upon the child's eyes, and his hands upon the child's hands; the warm hands of the old man covered the cold palms of the departed child. Then he stretched himself upon the child, and covered him with his whole body, as though he would transfer his own life into the lifeless frame, and would either die with him, or would make him live. We have heard of the chamois hunter acting as guide to a fearful traveler, who, when they came to a very dangerous part of the road, strapped the traveler firmly to himself, and said, "Both of us or neither," that is to say, "Both of us shall live, or neither of us, we are one." So did the prophet effect a mysterious union between himself and the lad, and in his own mind it was resolved that he would either be chilled with the child's death, or warm the child with his life. What does this teach us? The lessons are many and obvious. We see here, as in a picture, that if we would bring spiritual life to a child, we must most vividly realize that child's state. It is dead, dead. God will have you feel that the child is as dead in trespasses and sins as you once were. God would have you come into contact with that death by painful, crushing, humbling sympathy. In soul-winning, we should observe how our Master worked; now how did He work? When He would raise us from death, what did it behove Him to do? He must needs die himself: there was no other way. So it is with you. If you would raise that dead child, you must feel the chill and horror of that child's death yourself. A dying man is needed to raise dying men. I cannot believe that you will ever pluck a brand from the burning, without putting your hand near enough to feel the heat of the fire. You must have, more or less, a distinct sense of the dreadful wrath of God and of the terrors of the judgment to come, or you will lack energy in your work, and so lack one of the essentials of success. I do not think the preacher ever speaks well upon such topics until he feels them pressing upon him as a personal burden from the Lord. "I did preach in chains." said John Bunyan, "to men in chains." Depend upon it, when the death that is in your children alarms, depresses, and overwhelms you, then it is that God is about to bless you. Thus realising the child's state, and putting your mouth upon the child's mouth, and your hands upon its hands, you must next strive to adapt yourself as far as possible to the nature, and habits, and temperament of the child. Your mouth must find out the child's words, so that the child may know what you mean; you must see things with a child's eyes; your heart must feel a child's feelings, so as to be his companion and friend; you must be a student of juvenile sin; you must be a sympathiser in juvenile trials; you must, so far as possible, enter into childhood's joys and griefs. You must not fret at the difficulty of this matter, or feel it to be humiliating. If anything difficult be required, you must do it, and not think it difficult. God will not raise a dead child by you if you are not willing to become all things to that child, if by any possibility you may win its soul.
The prophet, "stretched himself upon the child." One would have thought it should be written "he contracted himself!" He was a full-grown man, and the other a mere lad. Should it not be "he contracted himself"? No, "he stretched himself?" and, mark you, no stretching is harder than for a man to stretch himself to a child. He is no fool who can talk to children; a simpleton is much mistaken if he thinks that his folly can interest boys and girls. It needs our best wits, our most industrious studies, our most earnest thoughts, our ripest powers, to teach our little ones. You will not quicken the child until you have "stretched" yourself; and, though it seems a strange thing, yet it is so. The wisest man will need to exercise all his abilities if he would become a successful teacher of the young.
We see, then, in Elisha, a sense of the child's death and an adaptation of himself to his work, but above all we see sympathy. While Elisha himself felt the chill of the corpse, his personal warmth was entering into the dead body. This of itself did not raise the child; but God worked through it—the old man's heat of body passed into the child, and became the medium of quickening. Let every teacher weigh these words of Paul. "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." God will bless by His Spirit our hearty sympathy with His own truth, and make it do that which the truth alone coldly spoken would not accomplish. Here, then, is the secret. You must impart to the young your own soul; you must feel as if the ruin of that child would be your own ruin.
The result of the prophet's work soon appeared, "The flesh of the child waxed warm." How pleased Elisha must have been; but I do not find that his pleasure and satisfaction caused him to relax his exertions. Never be satisfied with finding your children in a barely hopeful state, What you want is not mere conviction, but conversion; you desire not only impression, but regeneration. Life, life from God, the life of Jesus. This your scholars need, and nothing less must content you.
"Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro." Notice the restlessness of the man of God; he cannot be easy. The child waxes warm (blessed be God for that), but he does not live yet; so, instead of sitting down by the table, the prophet walks to and fro with restless foot, disquieted, groaning, panting, longing, and ill at ease. He could not bear to look upon the disconsolate mother, or to hear her ask, "Is the child restored?" but he continued pacing the house as if his body could not rest because his soul was not satisfied. Imitate this consecrated restlessness. When you see a boy getting somewhat affected, do not sit down and say, "The child is very hopeful, thank God; I am perfectly satisfied." You will never win the priceless gem of a saved soul in that way; you must feel sad, restless, troubled, if you ever become a parent in the church.
After a short period of walking to and fro, the prophet again "went up and stretched himself upon the child." What it is well to do once, it is proper to do a second time. What is good twice, is good seven times. There must be perseverance and patience. As surely as warmth went from Elisha to the child, so may cold go from you to your class unless you are in an earnest state of mind.
Elisha stretched himself on the bed again with many a prayer, and many a sigh, and much believing, and at last his desire was granted him. "The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes." Any form of action would indicate life, and content the prophet. The child "sneezed," some say, because he died with a disease of the head, for he said to his father, "My head! my head!" and the sneeze cleared the passages of life which had been blocked up. This we do not know. The fresh air entering afresh into the lungs might well compel a sneeze. The sound was nothing very articulate or musical, but it betokened life. This is all we should expect from young children when God gives them spiritual life. Some church members expect a great deal more, but for my part I am satisfied if the children sneeze—if they give any true sign of grace, however feeble or indistinct.
Perhaps if Gehazi had been there he would not have thought much of this sneezing, because he had never stretched himself upon the child, but Elisha was content with it. Even so, if you and I have really agonised in prayer for souls, we shall be very quick of eye to catch the first sign of grace, and shall be thankful to God if the token be but a sneeze. Then the child opened its eyes, and we will venture to say Elisha thought he had never seen such lovely eyes before. I know not what kind of eyes they were, the hazel or the blue, but this I know, that any eye which God helps you to open will be a beautiful eye to you.