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urge you to go often to the throne of grace, not in the spirit of cold formality, but with the affection of the child to its parent," that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Rather abstract some minutes from sleep, as your Lord did, than neglect to pray in secret. Young people, it is your duty. Josiah, when he was but eight years old, began to seek the Lord God of his father David." “Obadiah feared the Lord greatly from his youth." And the promise is, "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” Fathers and mothers, this duty belongs to you. Think on the children God has given you; the responsible situation you occupy; the necessity of obtaining strength from above; that you may not draw back, but be good examples to your families and domestics. Is not much prayer needful for you? Better, far better, you had perished ere you saw the light of the sun, than be the guilty cause of perdition to your household, by an unholy example. Aged people, this work belongs to you. Your sands will soon be run; the glass that measures your existence will shortly stop; and are you not much in secret prayer? Then how will ye do in the swelling of Jordan?" Do you desire to die happy? Then remember there must be much acquaintance with God now. Dreadful will be the interview between the immortal spirit and the Righteous Governor of the universe, if there have been no previous friendship "through the blood of the cross!" Time is short; eternity is at hand; arise and be doing; and the Lord be with you all. Amen.
MATTHEW vi. 7, 8.
"BUT WHEN YE PRAY, USE NOT VAIN REPETITIONS AS THE HEATHEN DO: FOR THEY THINK THAT THEY SHALL BE HEARD FOR THEIR MUCH SPEAKING. BE NOT YE THEREFORE LIKE UNTO THEM: FOR YOUR FATHER KNOWETH WHAT THINGS YE HAVE NEED OF, BEFORE YE ASK HIM."
THE connection of these words with the preceding is too obvious to render any attempt to explain it necessary. They refer to another branch of the unhappy mistakes and failings of the Jews with respect to their devotional exercises. Error is a down-hill road, and when once a man begins to travel in that direction, it is highly probable, that he will go much farther than he at first intended. One false principle leads to another, and a second to a third, till the whole system becomes corrupt. This was palpably the case with the Scribes and Pharisees. They perverted the law, and then it naturally followed, that they would pervert the intention of all their religious duties. Our Lord, therefore, having exposed their corrupt interpretations of the one, goes on to correct their errors on the other. He commences by condemning their giving alms for the sake of vain-glory; next he refers to
the public devotions which they performed for the same reason; and now he admonishes his hearers against vain repetitions in their supplications. This is the subject of the present lecture. May the Divine Spirit help us to understand the important truths in the passage before us, and to derive abundant advantage from their consideration.
I. LET US ENDEAVOUR TO EXPLAIN THE NATURE OF THE EVILS HERE FORBIDDEN.
"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be ye not therefore like unto them." The evils distinctly specified, and clearly prohibited, in this verse, are, vain repetitions, and much speaking; that is, an undue length in our supplications. But, inasmuch as all reiteration of the same sentiment, and all copiousness of petition, cannot be improper, it will be desirable to ascertain how far the admonition extends.
First. With respect to "vain repetitions." Now, that it does not condemn every instance of " repetition" in our public or private addresses, we have ample confirmation in the examples of scriptural history. The Psalms are full of instances of the recurrence of similar petitions and requests. In one we have the same verse four times.* in another, the same prayer seven times;† and in a third, the same words twenty-six times. Daniel, a man remarkable for piety, when interceding for the restoration of the Jews, employs the same language four times, in almost as many verses, in one chapter. § The Apostle Paul did the same in some of his epistles. And no marvel, for we have the practice of our Lord on record,
* Psalm cvii. 8, 15, 21, 31. Psalm cxxxvi.
+ Psalm cxix. "teach me thy statutes."
to the same effect: who, when " in the days of his flesh he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death," thrice repeated, in the anguish of his spirit, the same petition. He also encouraged importunity in his disciples --and importunity necessarily implies repetition—by recommending the example of the woman of Canaan, as an evidence of strong faith, and by the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge; for the distinct purpose of inculcating this truth-" that men ought always to pray, and not to faint."* Thus, so far from the repeated use of the same words being of itself an impropriety, it might be an excellence, inasmuch as it is sometimes an expression of the strength of faith and the fervour of desire.
What then is forbidden in the precept before us? The text answers the question" vain repetitions, as the heathens use." A superstitious rehearsal of a certain number of words, whether the heart be engaged or not, and a vain and unmeaning lengthening out of the time by idle tautologies, in an irreverent and trifling manner, is the substance of the evil in question. We have two remarkable illustrations of this in the sacred writings. The first is recorded of the worshippers of Baal, who "called on the name of their God from morning until noon, saying, O Baal hear us;" and taking the keen irony of the venerable prophet in earnest, they continued their unavailing supplication" till the time of the evening sacrifice." The other instance is related in the Acts of the Apostles, where the idolatrous multitude" cried out with one voice, about the space of two hours, Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Now the Jews had generally lost the spirit of devout supplication; and although they held the heathen to be no better than dogs," yet they
Luke xviii. 1-7.
+1 Kings xviii. 26-29.
had suffered themselves to be influenced, in many respects, by their foolish customs, of which this was one. Saviour, therefore, saw that it was necessary to condemn this practice, and to warn his disciples against so pernicious an evil to true religion. Repetitions may be proper and desirable when the soul is deeply engaged, but when employed for the show of devotion, they are unbecoming and profane in the extreme.
Secondly. A prolixity or copiousness is also prohibited. They think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be ye not therefore like unto them." But is all protracted supplication sinful? Is it not frequently highly proper and seemly? Are we not often placed in extraordinary circumstances of duty and danger, of trial and discouragement? And may not the heart indulge in prolonged devotion beneath their pressure? Certainly it may—and it ought to do it. We have many instances which will justify such conduct, if justification be needed, in the histories of primitive believers, patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. Jacob wrestled with the angel until the break of day. Solomon prayed to a very considerable length at the dedication of the temple. Nehemiah and the people "confessed, and worshipped the Lord their God a fourth part of the day."* On one occasion our blessed Lord "continued all night in prayer to God."+ And there are many passages in the epistles which imply the necessity and value of fervent, protracted prayer.
What, then, does the Saviour mean, when He exposes the folly of supposing "that we shall be heard for our much speaking?" The Jews had imbibed the silly notion, that "every one who multiplies prayer shall be heard, and that the prayer which is long shall not return empty."+
See Burder's Oriental Customs, in loco.
+ Luke vi. 12.