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trouble. Another idea suggested by the text in relation to our existence on earth is :
III. THE GRAND SUPPORT OF HUMAN LIFE. “Thou wilt revive me.” First : God is an all-sufficient support. He is equal to all our emergencies. “He is our refuge and strength,” &c. There is no enemy from which He cannot deliver us ; there is no trial under which He cannot support us; there is no danger from which He cannot rescue us. In the fiery furnace, in the surging waters, in the “valley of the shadow of death,” He is all-sufficient. Secondly: He is the only effective support. No one else can support you. “ Put not your trust in princes.” Thirdly: He is an available support. Available to all at any time. “Call upon me in the time of trouble and I will deliver you.” “ Take no thought for the morrow.” “Cast all your care on him."
Brother, art thou in the midst of trouble, with the storm gathering around thee? art thou crying with an old poet ?
Near and more near the billows rise,
E'en now my steps they lave,
Comes near in every wave.
Though griefs unnumbered throng thee round,
Still in thy God confide,
And curbs the headlong tide.—MERRICK.
SUBJECT :—Abraham's Prayer for Ishmael.
“ And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!”-Gen. xvii. 18.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Sixty-first.
ISHMAEL was the son of Abraham, by Hagar, the bondwoman, whom he had taken, at the instance of Sarah, to be his wife. The arrangement seems to have been made with the view of securing the fulfilment of the Divine promise to Abraham-viz., that he should have a son ; which it is assumed, without such means, would be found a thing “too hard for the Lord.” The scheme, however, neither hinders nor hastens the Divine purpose, though to Abraham himself it issues in bitter trial and disappointment. He seems to have believed, for thirteen years, that this was indeed.the child of promise; though we can well understand, from the fact that no Divine tokens accompanied his birth or his boyhood, that Abraham's heart must have been sometimes clouded with dark and sorrowful misgivings. When the boy was thirteen years old, his father is startled with a repetition of the promise he had thought fulfilled, accompanied now with a distinct statement, that Sarah shall be the mother of a child, a mother of a nation,” and that “Kings of people should be of her.” But Abraham “laughed” at it; "and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old ? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear ?” “And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee !”
In this prayer I discern three things that seem especially to demand our attention,-Unbelief, Impatience, and Natural affection
I. ABRAHAM'S UNBELIEF. The thing promised was out of the course of nature. And can we wonder if even the father of the faithful doubted; and preferred a request, that it seemed might be so naturally and easily granted ? Thou talkest to me O God of a good that long experience teaches to me is impossible ; confirm to me the possible, the already partially realized :-“O that Ishmael might live before thee!" Not that I mean that Abraham's prayer was altogether destitute of faith. He believed in the reality of the personal God, and in His power and willingness to bless ; but unbelief as to the methods, was struggling with his faith ; and were the character a fictitious one, it might perhaps be found fault with, as “not well sustained.” But Scripture writers paint character from life;—and life is often inconsistent. Some fifteen years before this indeed, Abraham had firmly believed, and his faith had been “counted to him for righteousness.” How inconsistent to doubt now! There are, however, two or three considerations which may extenuate this. (1) It is the thought of the heart that is here recorded. “He said in his heart, Shall a child be born ?” &c. When we distinguish between this and what he said audibly to God in his prayer, the conclusion to which we come is, that if all biographies were written in this way, the subjects of them would much oftener appear inconsistent than by the method which at present obtains. (2) The natural obstacle to the fulfilment of the promise, was greater now than on the previous occasion ;-himself and his wife being some fifteen years older. (3) He had to discharge from his mind a belief which he had long nourished and cherished. Let us suppose any one of us to be called to pass through a similar trial. Something that has for years been a part of our religion, our faith, we are suddenly required to give up, told that it is all a mistake-as Abraham was in effect told, as to his belief, that Ishmael was the child of promise—how we should cling to it! How hardly we should part from it! How sceptical we should be! Why we see it even now ! Demonstrate never so clearly from the Bible itself, that the true child of promise, to us as well as to Abraham, is from the “free woman,” and not from the “bond slave," and we still cling to the old, traditional, hereditary bondage. “O that Ishmael might live before thee !”
In this prayer we discern :
II. ABRAHAM'S IMPATIENCE. How natural it was! We take delight in seeing our children rising into youth and manhood, and anticipate the time when they will fulfil our choicest expectations. For thirteen years Abraham had watched Ishmael's growth, and seen him ripening for a glorious future. His hopes concerning the promise have been almost at noonday, and now they are put back to dimmest twilight, nay to darkness itself. Supposing him not to doubt the ultimate fulfilment, yet to be thus put off ! “ After he had patiently endured he obtained the promise ;" but now his impatience shows itself in the passionate plea which he puts up for Ishmael. The present Ishmael is better than the promised Isaac. How hard it is to have the present turned into a blank, and only the promise of a prize in the future! To see the schemes of years turned in a moment to foolishness, to have to retrace our steps and begin all anew; watching the slow progress of events, and counting the monotonous tickings of the dull clock of time! “Seize the main chance," say the world and the world's spirit within us. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush !" Let us have our portion now. Give it to us with labor and with sorrow if it must be so; but above all things do not ask us to wait ! So Esau despised his birthright. So did not Moses the “great recompense of reward”; so did not Christ; who for the joy set before him, endured the cross,” &c. And so did not Abraham, though for awhile the struggle was sore within him. Faith in the end triumphed over unbelief, and patience over passion. He hearkened unto the word of the Lord, and in the self-same day “fulfilled his commands.” Great need have we all to use the old prayer-meeting formula, “ Teach us how to pray, and what to pray for.” Subdue our impatience, and give us the spirit of resignation, and choose thou our inheritance for us : if it may be so, let Ishmael live before thee ; but in thine own way, and in thine own time fulfil to us thy gracious promises ! If we are perverse and blindly importunate in our important prayers, our God may give to us what we ask in judgment rather than in mercy. “God answers sharp and sudden in some prayers, and thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face. A gauntlet with a gift in it.” But from them that walk uprightly he will withhold no good thing. “He that spared not his own Son, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things ?”
III. ABRAHAM'S NATURAL AFFECTION. Consider what he was called on to do—to transfer his hopes and future glory from a lad of thirteen to an infant yet unborn. It would seem to him at first to involve a transfer of natural affection. All the father speaks out in this prayer, “O that Ishmael might live before thee !” Perhaps too, he imagined that to make room for another, Ishmael must die. How could he bear to see the lad's strong frame wrung with disease, or to see his mangled and ghastly corpse brought in from some of the field-sports in which he early took delight? It seemed not to enter into the mind of Abraham, or at least only as a remote possibility, that in the purposes of God there might be room for both. But in truth to Abraham's natural affection no violence is to be done. “Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed and thou shalt call his name Isaac, the gladness and laughter of thy house. And as for Ishmael,” &c. Our God heareth prayer, even when mixed with many of the elements of our imperfect and selfish natures. He is indeed often too good to give us what we ask, but He gives us more and better. He will not substitute our Ishmael for Isaac, but with His blessing gives us both.
J. W. LANCE
SUBJECT :-A True Character.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Sixty-second. FIRST : Christ is the foundation of a good character. “A stone.” He is the model, the medium, the main-spring, of all moral excellence in man. “The foundation” is tried, precious, sure. Secondly: Believing is the rearing of a true character. “He that believeth.” Man moves by motives, and motives are formed by beliefs. Thirdly: God is the judge of a true character. (1) He measures it by the law of rectitude. He lays "judgment” to the line, &c. (2) He tests it by the dispensation of His Government. “Hail shall sweep away,” &c. Truly, “ Other foundations can no man lay,” &c.