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into a state of safety and happiness. And you observe that there is an express promise made to those who thus pray, that they shall have a favourable answer: and there is also a declaration that, in point of fact, such is the experience of praying persons. To the more full illustration of these two connected points we shall return by-and-by. It only remains, in explanation, to notice the illustration of the same subject by a comparison drawn from the readiness which earthly parents show to give their children what they ask.
If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or, if he ask a fish, will he, for a fish, give him a serpent? or, if he ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?" Some stones are not unlike bread; a serpent is not unlike some kinds of fishes-for example, those of the eel species; and the body of a large scorpion is not unlike an egg;* but would any father, who is possessed of the common feelings of humanity, mock his son's hunger with a stone, or endanger his life with venomous reptiles? Surely not. A father will neither altogether refuse the request of his famishing son, nor give him what is useless or hurtful: on the contrary, he will listen to his application, and bestow on him what his case requires. But observe the conclusion which our Lord draws from this: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? In the parallel passage, Matt. vii. 11, the expression is, "How much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" These good things are here summed up in the gift of the Holy Spirit; for, those who have received the Spirit, have received Christ and every thing necessary for their spiritual good here, and also the earnest of eternal life hereafter.
* Scorpions are large insects, of which there are several different species, varying from an inch and a half; to six inches or more in length, and of various colours; most being dark, but one species white. Their sting causes a very painful inflammation, and is often dangerous, and sometimes even fatal. Their appearance is somewhat like that of the lobster; and the shape of their bodies has some resemblance to that of an egg.-Buffon and Bochart. We have the following figurative description of the miseries to be inflicted by certain cruel people, in the 9th chapter of the Revelation: "Unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power."-"And to them it was given that they should not kill men, but that they should be tormented (by them) five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when it striketh a man."-" And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails."
Let us remember, my friends, how entirely dependent we are on the influences of the Holy Spirit for the actual application of the benefits of the Saviour's purchase-for light, faith, peace, holiness, comfort, stability, and every grace. Let us be mindful, too, how we are to expect these influences, namely, in answer to prayer. The gift of the Spirit is promised in the covenant of grace. I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." But this promise is only made to those who plead it in prayer; for it is added,* "Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." And, in proof that God will bestow this inestimable gift on those who ask it, an appeal is here made to the common experience of children as such, and to the feelings and practice of earthly parents as such. Let children say if they have not, generally speaking, found their parents ready, to the utmost of their ability, to promote their happiness and comply with their reasonable desires, and even ready to deny themselves in many respects, in order that they might not feel any want. And let parents think of their deep feelings of compassion for their children, and their active and cheerful exertions for their happiness; and thence, let both learn somewhat of the force of the argument involved in the comparison which our Lord here draws, when he speaks of the great God as our Father, and of us as his children. But the comparison does not nearly come up to the truth, as Jesus himself declares. Parents are "evil;" earthly parents, even the wisest and best of them, are imperfect, weak, and sinful creatures; but our heavenly Father, he who made, who preserves, and who has redeemed us, is perfectly wise, holy, and powerful, and also infinitely compassionate. If, then, earthly parents, who are in many respects so ignorant, and so weak, and so sinful, have yet knowledge, and power, and feeling enough to give good gifts to their children; how much more shall our heavenly Father, who is infinitely wise, powerful, and kind, give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
And now, let us take up the leading topic in these nine verses, and direct your attention more fully to that particular characteristic of the duty of prayer, which, from the word used in the 8th verse, is commonly called importunity. This one word includes the two ideas of earnestness * Ezek. xxxvi. 27, 37.
and perseverance, being equivalent to what the apostle Paul, in writing to the Romans,* calls "continuing instant in prayer."
Consider here, first of all, the reasonableness and incumbency of such importunity. With regard to the earnestness which is implied in importunity of prayer, it is difficult to conceive how any objection to this can be raised on the ground of reason; for, it is plain, that not only the prayer which is altogether insincere, and proceeding out of feigned lips-the prayer of the hypocrite-but also the prayer which is not the expression of an actual wish, nay, of some considerable degree of intensity of desire, is but a mocking of God, and must be an abomination to him. With regard, however, to the perseverance which is implied in importunity, the unenlightened mind has sometimes suggested that it is enough to address a request once to the Almighty; because, if he be inclined to grant it, one intimation of the wish is as well understood by him as a thousand, and we are not to imagine that he will be driven from his purpose by human importunity. Now, it is true that God's ear is not heavy that it cannot readily hear; it is true that we are not to be heard for our much speaking; and it is also true that God is of one mind, and none can turn him. It is even true that there are cases in which further perseverance in prayer is not a duty, but should be desisted from. These are cases in which men are applying for any temporal thing of which there is no express promise in Scripture. There are various things of this kind which we may lawfully desire, and express our desire for in prayer, in as far as it shall serve for God's glory, and our own spiritual good. But when, in any such case, Providence appears plainly to have ordered the matter otherwise than we wish, and to have so settled the point that we could not have our desire but by a miracle-in short, when we have in any way discovered what ought to be sufficient to convince us that it is not the will of God to grant what we are asking, to persevere in praying for it after that would not be holy and warrantable importunity, but unauthorized and troublesome obstinacy. In such a case, we ought to learn from that of Moses, to whom, when he attempted to prevail with God to allow him to pass over Jordan, after he had been told that he was to die in the wilderness, God said, "Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter." At the same time,
*Rom. xii. 12.
in many cases which are chiefly of a temporal nature, where God's will is not plainly made known by circumstances, perseverance in prayer is both reasonable and useful. But with regard to spiritual blessings-those blessings which are connected with salvation, which are absolutely necessary to our happiness, which are expressly promised to those who ask them, and which are more immediately referred to in this passage as included in the gift of the Holy Spirit-the reasonableness and propriety, nay, the absolute incumbency, of this earnest perseverance, this importunity, are very certain.
The reasonableness and incumbency of importunity in prayer appear from the majesty and holiness of that Being whom we address, contrasted with our own weakness and sinfulness. The depth of feeling and anxiety for success with which we approach to ask a favour of a fellow-creature, bear a proportion to his dignity and worth: what reverence, then, what fervour, what earnestness and perseverance of supplication, become us in drawing near to the King of kings, and Lord of lords! An indifferent, lukewarm, and careless spirit and demeanour, in approaching this august Being, are most sinful and offensive. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot," says he to every such careless worshipper; "so then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." And when we bring into comparison with his glory and holiness our own meanness and unworthiness, the inference is still strengthened. Abraham felt this sense of his own unworthiness urging him to holy importunity, as appears in his words: "Behold now, I have taken it upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes." He spoke again and again; and then said, "O let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once." In like manner, Solomon prayed earnestly, in an humble sense of his unworthiness, "But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built?" Surely, according to God's majesty and holiness, as contrasted with our own weakness and sinfulness, so should be the importunity with which we address him.
The reasonableness and incumbency of such importunity will further appear, if we consider the great value of the deliverances and positive blessings we implore. I speak here, of course, chiefly of spiritual deliverances and blessings.
What more reasonable than that our anxiety and perseverance of pursuit should be regulated by the value of the objects we have in view? We should, unquestionably, grudge that earnestness and continuance of application to avert a trifling evil, or to obtain a trifling advantage, which we should yet think well spent to save our life, or to gain a kingdom. But, let us only think of the importance of the spiritual deliverances for which we pray to God-deliverance from destructive ignorance, error, unbelief, guilt, and pollution-deliverance from the curse of God now, and from the wrath to come-deliverance from everlasting miseryand then let us ask ourselves with what importunity we ought to pray for such deliverances. How will the man cry for help who perceives the surrounding tide approaching to overwhelm him! but how much more should we cry to God to save us from being drowned in eternal destruction and perdition! When a man has fallen into a deep pit, from which he cannot of himself get out, will he remain silent, and die without an effort to bring people to his aid? No; he will call, and call earnestly, for help; he will cry as loud as he can; nor will he be satisfied with crying once, or twice, or any number of times; he will multiply and prolong his cries—he will cry himself hoarse; and though his strength be much exhausted, he will cry from time to time, as long as he is able to utter a sound-he will never desist till his cries bring him relief. Now, that man presents but a feeble emblem of our dismal and helpless condition, as fallen into the deep pit of sin, which, if grace prevent not, is the first part of the descent into the bottomless pit. With what earnest perseverance, then, with what importunity, ought we to cry unto the Lord, that by the blood of the covenant he would bring us, poor prisoners, out of the pit wherein there is no water! Surely, we should wait patiently for the Lord, till he incline his ear unto us, and hear our cry -till he bring us up out of this horrible pit, out of this miry clay till he set our feet on a rock, and establish our goings, and till he put a new song into our mouth, even praise to our God. "The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail:" but O with what speed, anxiety, and perseverance, should we importune the Lord God to deliver us from the wretched captivity of Satan! and how should we agonize in the prayer, "Lord, save us, else we perish!" And then, when we think of the value of the positive