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should the command of Christ be obeyed, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”? “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in ” ?8
The prophet Ezekiel was sent upon a mission which might well have been reckoned hopeless :' “ Thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, or be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house ; and thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious."
It is the dreadful doom of those who live in iniquity and die in impenitence, “He that is unholy, let him be unholy still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” But to pass this awful sentence, must be left for God: the language of man must always be, “ Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, for He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” When the hand of the Lord was upon the prophet, and carried him out in the Spirit of the Lord, and “ set him down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and lo, they were very dry;" he did not dare to pronounce that they could not live: but answered, “O Lord God, thou knowest."
And then he was commanded; “Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry
8 Mark xvi. 15. Luke xiv. 23. 9 See Ezek. xxxvii. 1-10; ii. 6.
“ Hereby it appears how wickedly they wrest the words of Christ, who think that he restrains the doctrine of the Gospel to those only who are apt to be taught, and well prepared. For what should be done, if godly preachers called no man but him that now by his obedience prevents the grace of God? when by nature we all are rather wicked, and bent to stubbornness ? Wherefore the remedy of salvation is to be denied to none but them that filthily refuse the same offered to them, that it may appear they are reprobate, and condemned of themselves.”—Calvin in loco. 2 Rev. xxii. 11.
8 Ezek, xxxvii, 6, 7.
bones, hear the word of the Lord. So he prophesied, and breath came into them, and they lived and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army."
And so there would rise up before us an exceeding great army, of all nations and ages, if all could be summoned together whom man would have been ready to pronounce cast-away, “to every good work reprobate ;" but who have been washed, and sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God ;" who turning away from the wickedness which they had committed, and doing that which is lawful and right, have shown forth the praises of Him who had called them out of darkness into marvellous light.
ENCOURAGEMENTS TO PRAYER.
MATT. vii. 7-11.
7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and
it shall be opened unto you: 8. “For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh,
findeth ; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” SUPPOSE for a moment these words to be inscribed over a rich man's gate, and figure to your minds the crowds which would be found there. Not because our need of temporal things is greater than our need of spiritual blessings ; not that to be destitute of the one is worse than to be destitute of the other; not that there is any comparison between what the rich man could give, and what God graciously offers to give :~but because men are sensibly alive to their temporal wants, but are grievously indifferent towards those wants which concern the soul.'
1 That spiritual blessings are chiefly intended in this passage, appears from the parallel verse in St. Luke: “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him !”
We see, however, the encouragement which the words were intended to convey, from the connexion in which they are found. The disciples had been listening to many difficult injunctions. They had been instructed to hold this present world in light esteem, and to seek first the kingdom of God: to make it their great business to lay up treasures in heaven: to obey commandments, against which flesh and blood would earnestly contend. And they might naturally ask, or at least think within themselves, “who is sufficient for these things ?” Our Lord meets this inquiry by the assurance, repeated by his apostles afterwards, “ If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally. Only let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven here and there, and tossed. Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.'
This caution of St. James, “ Only let a man ask in faith,” exactly agrees with what we read here. To ask, to seek, to knock, implies that earnestness and perseverance which arises out of perfect confidence that He of whom we ask and seek, is able to grant our petitions. It explains also why much of what is called prayer, obtains no answer, receives no blessing. UnIess a want is felt, there can be no sincerity in prayer: none of that earnestness with which the mother of Samuel besought the Lord, in her anxiety for a son :: when, as we are told, she “ spoke in her heart; only her lips moved; but her voice was not heard, as she poured out her soul unto the Lord.” Conscious of her urgent supplication, she says afterwards, “For this child I prayed ; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him. So again, Seek, and ye shall find. Seeking implies perseverance; as described in the parable,' when she who has lost a piece of money, lights her candle, and sweeps the house, 2 James i. 2-4. 3 1 Sam. i. 13. 4 Sam. i. 27.
5 Luke xv. 8.
and seeks diligently until she find it: or as the like promise is given in the book of Proverbs ; 9 “ If thou seekest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest for her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” How much is spoken every day, and passes under the name of prayer, with no sign of this earnest seeking !-Further, knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Persevere like the beggar at a gate, where he expects to obtain relief: like the Canaanite who had been for twelve years a sufferer, and could not be kept back or turned aside till she had reached the Lord, and touched the hem of his garment." He who is within the gate, knows whether we knock in earnest, really desiring that it should be opened ; whether when we pray for the hallowing of his name, or the coming of his kingdom, a care for his glory is really in our hearts ; whether when we pray not to be led into temptation, but delivered from evil, we are indeed dreading and avoiding sin as our greatest danger.
It is this prayer of faith and perseverance that has the assurance of success; ye shall not ask, and seek, and knock, in vain. And since promises are sometimes doubted, as if too great to be accomplished,
our Lord even vouchsafes to reason with us and asks, Do not
ye, notwithstanding all the evil there is about you, give such good gifts as are in your power to your children? How much more shall your heavenly Father, who is altogether holy and righteous, give good things to those who are made his “ children by adoption and grace,” when they sincerely and earnestly desire them ?
9. “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he
give him a stone ? 10. “Or if he ask a fish, will be give him a serpent ?
6 Prov. iii. 3-5.
7 See Mark v. 27.
11. “ If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your
children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” A gracious encouragement to prayer is given in these words. But how lightly it is valued !
How commonly is prayer considered as a burthensome duty, rather than a delightful privilege!
The way to judge of this, is to reflect how it would be with those whose day of trial is over, and who are now "shut up in everlasting darkness unto the great day.” If they who, while on earth, had refused to “hear Moses and the prophets,” were now invited to ask for pardon, that they might receive it, to seek for grace that they might find it, to knock at the gate of heaven in time, and it should be opened unto them through eternity; how gladly would they welcome the invitation, and grasp at the offered blessing.
Let us, then, “seek the Lord whilst he may be found, and call upon him while he is near." Bitter indeed will be the reflection in the eternal world, that the pardon purchased by Christ, and all the unspeakable blessings attending it, might have been ours, had we thought them worth diligently seeking, in humble,
Some, perhaps, may feel dispirited, and think that the promise of our Lord in this passage is hardly accomplished. They may lament that the supplies of grace, which they had looked for, are less speedily and less abundantly ministered than they hoped and expected. But let not this discourage them. The Spirit is not really ever absent, where his presence is anxiously desired. They may have grown in grace, yet their growth may have been imperceptible to themselves. One thing is sure, that they who have persevered in prayer, have not prayed in vain. God has given to them a “spirit of prayer and supplication, and this is a pledge and earnest of all other blessings.