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A SPIRITUAL MIND TO BE SOUGHT AND ATTAINED
LUKE xi. 13. If ye 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?
I PURPOSE from these words proceeding from our Saviour's own mouth to offer a few plain and altogether practical considerations on the subject of Prayer.
Prayer is perhaps among the most perplexing and most diffcult of all subjects in Religion, if it be taken up too curiously, and with a wish to know more things concerning it than the Almighty has judged proper to make known: but it may rank
among the simplest and the easiest of all the " things of the Spirit,” when it is only handled practically, according to that which is
written, and only with desire to think of it, and to employ it as an instrument of grace, agreeably with and in obedience to the will of God. Our present thoughts, accordingly, will be addressed to these two points alone; to show the most unquestionable obligation of prayer, as a plain point of Christian duty; and the entire weakness and unreasonableness of certain grounds, on which (or on some other like to which) it may be feared that many, who still profess to be Christ's servants and are called by his name, are led to undervalue or neglect it.
Our way toward the first of these two points will be made clear, by paying just attention to the context to which the text belongs.
One of our Lord's disciples had requested him to teach them to pray; and he, in answer, had instructed them in that form which has been ever since distinguished by the title of “ the “ Lord's prayer.”
Having thus prescribed to them a form for their direction, as if to urge and to encourage them to persevering use of it, he continues his discourse as follows. He said unto them, “ Which of you shall have a friend, and shall
go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of
“ mine in his journey is come unto me, and I “ have nothing to set before him? And he from “ within shall answer and say, Trouble me not ; “ the door is now shut, and my children are with “me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say “ unto you, though he will not rise and give him
because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. “ And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you ; seek, and ye shall find; knock, “ and it shall be opened unto you: for every one " that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh “ findeth ; and to him that knocketh it shall be “ opened. 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 shall ask an egg, will he give “ him a scorpion ? 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 ?”
Now here, to notice only points that are entirely and perfectly plain, it cannot reasonably be disputed, that in this passage Jesus Christ, our Master and Lord, recommends to his disciples the exercise of prayer ; nor yet, that he enjoins
which he says,
a resolute and persevering use of it; nor yet, that he particularly points it out as the main object of prayer, to ask for and obtain assistance of the Holy Spirit. If language such as that in
“ Ask and it shall be given you,” with all that follows in the ninth and tenth verses of the chapter, does not make good the first of these three propositions, I do not know what language can be plain, or certain in its meaning. If it be not the purpose of his illustration, in which he shows so closely to the life by so familiar an example the force of importunity, to urge the wisdom of “ continuing “ in prayer earnestlya,” we must pronounce this lively parable to be mere ornament, without an aim. If the expressions in the text do not sufficiently instruct us, both in our need of seeking spiritual assistance and in our power of obtaining it, if sought rightly, it is not easy to determine what instruction could content us upon these points. Whatever may be doubtful in the whole passage, these three particulars are surely plain; and therefore, if we do as Christ has taught us, we shall learn and love to pray unto our Father which is in heaven.
Compare Luke xviii. 1-7. Rom. xii. 12. Eph. vi. 18. 1 Thess. v. 17.
Do Christians then appear, in general, to follow this instruction of their Lord? We cannot, and we do not seek to track them to their closets. God and their consciences alone can testify to their proceedings there. The only judgment we can form is that which lies upon the surface; which must depend on the extent to which, throughout their daily lives, they seem to manifest“the fruits of the Spiritb.” Weknow, with
b.“ Fruits of the Spirit.” Were the test proposed here the dispositions which our Lord pronounces blessed, instead of the fruits of the Spirit, it would amount in substance to the same thing. I do not mean to say that exact parallel lists might be drawn—of the “ fruits of the Spirit” on the one hand, and of the “ beatitudes” upon the other—without some little forcing; but he who should take either of these summaries of Christian excellence for his original mark, and by due course of means appointed tolerably realise it, would in the end exhibit so completely the same sort of character, that his embodying of Christian practice would bear analysis alike by either standard.
A parallel has been proposed, unquestionably sound, between the fruits of the Spirit and the characteristics of Charity. I think the consistency of Scripture with itself will be confirmed still further, by adding the beatitudes to these as a third criterion, by which to try the Christian character. Neither of the three patterns is so strictly and literally the same, as to admit the imputation of any one being directly copied from the other; all are so alike in substance and in tendency, as to forbid the supposition of any other than a common source to all in the same spirit of truth. But let the