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Now, it is here that the testimony of revelation comes in as an antidote to the ignorance and criminal blindness of the human heart. That blessed volume encourages the act and the habit of affectionate, familiar, and unreserved communion with God. It does so throughout all its pages, in whatever period of the world they were written. It maintains the duty, and the wisdom, and the success of such endeavours to communicate with God, and to obtain his blessing. And never has this important and encouraging truth been more fully stated, than when the incarnate Jehovah stood upon our earth, the willing victim of the covenant of reconciliation, and delivered to fallen and disconsolate man the words of our text,-" Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you."
Here then, my Christian friends, is the charter for the privilege of prayer. This injunction of our Redeemer-these words of eternal truth-are the basis on which we will rest the propriety of prayer. Turning aside from all other general arguments, we will take our stand upon these words of Him who came forth from God-" who died for us and rose again," and who is now "seated at the right hand of God, able and willing to save unto the uttermost all those who come unto God by him, seeing that he ever liveth to make intercession for them." From his lips, we take our encouragement for prayer.
The observations I have to submit to you, may be collected under two leading notions,
I. The idea which is here given us of the nature prayer; and,
II. The nature of the encouragement to pray.
And God grant, that, while we consider these things, our hearts may be lifted prayerfully to his throne for a blessing.
I. The nature of prayer. This is set before us in the seventh verse, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened.” The passage implies the need of certain things which we have not; and the mode of application to God for them. And here, therefore, we must notice the subject and the character of prayer.
First, The subject of prayer. It is that which we really are in need of; not that which we think we want, for our judgment may be erroneous; but that which really is wanting and needful in our present circumstances of distance and alienation from God, of sin and sinfulness, of trial and sorrow. All that is really wanting to make our character and state what it should be, and what God would have us to be, to make us holy and happy, is the proper object of prayer. The text arranges these necessities under three classes.
1st, There are many things that we have not for which we may ask. This will apply to many temporal blessings and mercies, such as health, and
strength, and wisdom, and the due supply of our wants. For these we may ask, so long as we ask in the spirit of Agur's prayer,-" Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."
But these wants are, after all, of a very subordinate order; and the injunction applies with still more force to those things which we need, as the rational and moral creatures of God, in order that we may live in his fear, and to his glory. We need spiritual blessings. We need supplies out of the divine fulness; grace to love, and fear, and serve God, and to fulfil all the duties of our several stations in this life, as the responsible servants and stewards of the living God. Every day will suggest to a man of pious mind, a multitude of wants, that he may wisely and properly take to a throne of grace. The events of life develope to us our manifold defects, infirmities, and necessities. We want all that is needful to make us holy and Godlike, and fitted to be everlastingly the servants of the holy and everlasting God, unblemished and unblameable in his sight.
2dly, We have lost much, after which we may seek. Our case is not merely a case of simple want; but of loss, to be recovered, of ruin, to be repaired. As the man that lost his sheep, and the woman that lost her piece of silver, sought
diligently; so are we to seek for what we have lost. We have suffered a loss of what we once were of what God originally created us; for "God made man upright," he made him in his own image and likeness; and this we have lost.
Nothing can be more evident to a serious inquirer, to a man who knows the law of God, and measures himself by it, than that man's soul does not wear the image of his Maker. God himself bears a solemn testimony to this fact, when he says, by the mouth of David," There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And experience testifies to this also. The honest witness of conscience is, "When I would do good, evil is present with me." I am a sinful and a fallen man, O Lord." We find ourselves, therefore, fallen from the height on which God originally placed us, as free to serve him, and fitted to delight in his service. We are in a state of moral bankruptcy of the most distressing kind. We want peace of conscience, and a sense of acceptance, and favour with God. We want love to God, and affectionate alacrity in his service. We want an innocent and a holy mind. We want superiority to temptation, and grace to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts. We want that thorough, constant, unchecked influence from a holy God, which would curb every excessive passion
and inclination, eradicate the indwelling tendency to evil, and make holiness the element in which we delight exclusively to dwell. All this we must regard as having been our original inheritance, but as having been lost, wilfully thrown aside, slighted, despised. And never can we be thoroughly happy again, till these lost blessings are recovered.
3dly, We are shut out from much, to which we may seek to be admitted. When man sinned, God withdrew from him, and left him. This is the necessary consequence of sin. It is alienation from God; distance from God; the actual cessation of intercourse with God, upon the ground of moral unfitness. This, in the last stage of it, to which the finally impenitent are condemned, is called "outer darkness." This is the extreme point of alienation from God; but in every case of moral evil and consequent dissimilarity to the good God, in proportion to the degree of evil, is the degree of exclusion from God. Sin raises a barrier between God and the soul, which prevents communion with God. This is evidently the case with the careless and profane. It is so, upon their own shewing; for they openly deny even the possibility of such intercourse with God. And it is admitted to be the case also with those who are awakening, and beginning to seek something better; for their cry is, "Alas! He is a God that hideth himself." "Oh, that I knew where I might find him." I cannot pray. I cannot feel that there is any