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no denial, and cannot be refused. This is beautifully expressed from verse 5, "And 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 to 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." But lest any should doubt, and hesitate about this as absolute severity that their prayers should be heard, and argue that friendship may be forfeited, wax cold, and be broken off; his second similitude contains, if possible, a still more powerful argument. It is taken from the love of a father to his child applying to him for food; and though one friend should prove unkind to another, the bowels of a father will be tender and affectionate to his own child, and neither deceive nor disappoint him. We have this from verse 11, "If a son shall ask bread from 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 offer him a scorpion ?" The text is the application of the second similitude; and words can neither express, nor imagination conceive, higher encouragement, or more conclusive reasoning. God is not only our friend, but our father; and what can unbelief itself object to this gracious assurance, “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 ?” This encouragement is of universal application, and every person must feel the force of it. Some are parents, and well acquainted with strong natural affection, and feel continued inclination to supply the wants of their children. All once were children, and can recollect how they looked to their fathers with anxious desire for supply, and strong confidence that they would not be disappointed.
In opening up these words, we propose
I. To speak a little of that importunity in prayer spoken of in the context, and about which Christ gives the gracious encouragement in the text.
II. To open up the encouragement itself.
III. To show who may, with confidence and propriety, take the comfort of it; and then subjoin the application.
I. It is then proposed to speak a little of that importunity in prayer about which Christ gives the gracious encouragement in the text.
1. Importunity in prayer is a combination of gracious affections working in the heart, and flowing out to God in fervent desire for the blessing. There is an infinite difference between pertinent expression, and importunate desires. Many address God in such language as awakens the affections of others, while
their own hearts are cold and frozen. These only, who are experimentally acquainted with importunity, can form any proper idea of it; and even these cannot express what they feel. The Scriptures give various descriptions of importunity in prayer, both to open up the nature of it, and make the tried saint know that others have been reduced to equal extremity. It is called a wrestling with God, and refusing to let him go without the blessing; a stirring up ourselves to take hold of him, and giving him no rest; never holding our peace day nor night, and not keeping silence; a pouring out the heart, and laying it open before God.
It is often exemplified: Jacob wrestled; Moses cried; and David roared, and made a noise. Christ himself was most fervent and importunate "in the days of his flesh, when he offered up prayers, and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death." It is altogether opposite to cold, languid desires, and heart wandering. The soul collects herself, brings every faculty into action, and with united energy, makes fervent application to God. With the eye of the mind fixed on the blessing, the importunate believer strongly desires it; his hope is filled with expectation, and faith urges the divine promise. The affections unite with the other faculties of the soul, and all that is within the believer is stirred up to seek the Lord.
2. This importunity, in every instance, flows chiefly from a sense of need. This is evidently supposed in the instances adduced by Christ. Application is made at midnight by a friend for loaves, because a
traveller of his acquaintance had stopped at his house, and was in need, not only of refreshing sleep, but of something to eat after the fatigue of his journey: he had nothing to set before him, and therefore must have some loaves. Absolute necessity was the only plea for troubling him at such an unseasonable hour. A young child has nothing of his own, and depends on his father. Gnawing hunger makes him cry, and the father gives him food convenient for him.
In the nature of things, necessity chiefly produces importunity. Abundantly supplied at home, the rich never think of begging at his neighbour's door. The sinner, who " is rich and increased in goods, and standing in need of nothing," will never make importunate application to God. From the throne of grace God has nothing to give to a sinner except GRACE, an article invariably despised by the rich, and esteemed only by the indigent. It is a feeling sense of this which makes him apply with fervency for that mercy which is rich and free.
The same sense of need which brings the sinner at first to the throne of grace, in every after period keeps him at it. The saint, who is emptied from vessel to vessel, will be the most fervent and importunate. When David was reduced to the greatest straits, he was most fervent in prayer. When Paul was buffeted by the messenger of Satan, he besought the Lord thrice. When the saint is at ease, and waxes fat, he is ready to forget God; but pinched anew, he cries as in months past. One reason why the Lord keeps his people poor and needy is, because
he wants to hear often from them, and maintain fellowship; and in the opposite situation they would be estranged. It is not meant to divest love of every degree of influence on the soul in her importunate addresses to God. Love constrains to the performance of duty; but the believer's love is commonly so languid as to stand in need of the powerful motive of necessity to co-operate in giving life and vigour to his faint and languishing desires: and at his first application he always feels the force of need powerfully driving him to God, before he is acquainted with the influence of love sweetly drawing him.
3. Importunity in prayer must always be learned in Christ's school. John taught his disciples; and Christ taught his. We must know from the word that it is allowed, and we can learn only by the inward revelation of the Holy Spirit how to reduce it to practice. It is Christ's design in this passage to acquaint us with the nature of importunity, and open up the encouragement which sinners have to apply to him. It is amazing condescension in him who is rich, not only to supply the poor, though at the expense of becoming poor himself, but to instruct them to apply to him, and teach them the art of begging. Many methods has Christ taken to instruct sinners in the duty of prayer. The whole word of God is of use to direct us. Taken in bulk it is a revelation of grace, exhibiting a God of grace to the sinner as a suitable portion, and of easy access. Distributed into its different parts, the divine word teaches the exercise of prayer. Sometimes it commands it; and at other times threatens the neglect