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THE DISCIPLES' REQUEST.
LUKE xi. 1. •
Lord, teach us to pray.
JESUS CHRIST did not keep his disciples at a forbidding distance: he was with them as a man with his friends, as a father with his children: he conversed freely with them: he frequently asked them familiar questions, and he allowed them to come to him with familiar requests. We have one in the text before us, which is highly worthy of our attentive consideration.
The occasion of this request is stated in the verse from which it is taken: "And it came to pass, that as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."—Several things are observable in this verse, which we may briefly notice as introductory to what we have more particularly in view. One thing is—our • Lord's attention to the duty of prayer: he was indeed much accustomed to pray. As God, he was himself the object of prayer; he was prayed to, and he accepted the service: it was as man and Mediator that he prayed, and he had need to do so. This Evangelist takes particular notice of the prayers of Jesus Christ. At his baptism he prayed: at his transfiguration on the mount he prayed. We read of his rising up " a great while before day" on this business: and of his "continuing all night" in the same exercise. Such was the need he felt; such was the pleasure he enjoyed; such was the elevated devotion of his heart!— Again: the disciples of our Lord had frequent opportunities of noticing his prayers. They did so on this occasion, and on several others. He withdrew from the multitude; he retired into some private place, perhaps to a mountain, or into a garden; but often he took his disciples with him, and they heard his supplications: they witnessed the holy fervour of his soul; for he designed their benefit, as well as his own refreshment and support.—Further, the example of John is mentioned: "Teach us, as John also taught his disciples." In what way John did this we are not told. As a man of prayer himself, we do not wonder that he should teach his disciples: and as sent of God to introduce the Saviour, and the Christian dispensation, doubtless the prayers he taught had direct reference to the reign of Messiah, and to the spiritual blessings of his kingdom. John taught his disciples to pray: the disciples of Jesus remind him of this as a reason why he should teach them. But they needed not to urge this motive: Jesus was ready to teach; much more so than ever John was, and unspeakably better qualified.
Such was the occasion of the words of the text. The Lord Jesus was praying in some retired place, and his disciples were with him. "When he ceased;" for they would not interrupt him: they knew better than to disturb his devotional exercises—" When he ceased, one of his disciples," probably in the name and at the desire of the rest, "said unto him, Lord, teach Wj to pray."—We propose to consider
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THIS REQUEST—and THE MANNER IN WHICH IT WAS REGARDED.
I. What Is Implied In This Request.— Clearly it implies,
1. A conviction of the propriety of prayer.—The immediate disciples of Jesus Christ ha*d certainly this conviction. They knew that the Pharisees were very frequent in the outward practice of the duty; and though our Lord censured their hypocrisy and vain repetitions, he by no means blamed the thing itself. They knew that John taught his disciples to pray; and especially that Christ prayed much himself. We cannot think of their being witnesses to the frequency and fervour of his cries to his heavenly Father, without feeling strongly convinced of the propriety and importance of the duty.
And ought not you to feel the same conviction? Do not innumerable circumstances tend to strengthen it ?—Are you not dependent? And should not dependent creatures pray to their Creator ?—Are you not sinful? And should not sinners supplicate Sovereign Mercy? Besides, that must be of great moment which God has explicitly appointed, to which he has annexed the most precious promises, and to the neglect of which he has denounced the most awful threatenings. That must be highly commendable, and of very serious importance, which has been practised by the best of men in all ages; which has met with such evident marks of Divine approbation; which has brought down such inestimable blessings; which has averted such tremendous evils; which has conduced so much to the revival of religion in the church, and to the prosperity of the work of grace in the soul. Think of these things with that attention and interest which they deserve, and you will feel what the disciples felt when they came with this request—a strong conviction of the propriety and importance of prayer.
2. It implies a sense of their need of being taught. —They would not have come, saying, "Lord, teach us to pray," had they thought themselves wise enough already; but this they did not imagine. Neither shall we, if we think soberly and reflect seriously.
It is one of the worst signs, it indicates one of the most unlovely traits of religious character, when a man has a high opinion of his knowledge, his acquired abilities, particularly in the performance of sacred duties; when he feels self-sufficient, and satisfied with his own attainments. A humble man indulges no such feeling: a true penitent, who knows his own heart, its deceitfulness and exceeding sinfulness, is not pleased with any thing of his own. He understands what the Apostle means, when he says; "We know not what we should pray for as we ought*." And in writing to the church at Corinth; "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of Godf." The words of Elihu convey a sentiment similar to this in the text; "Teach us what we shall say unto him; for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness J." This darkness is ignorance; ignorance of God, and of his government; of ourselves, and of our wants. A painful obscurity frequently rests on
• Rom..viiL 26. t 2 Cor. iii. 5. J Job xxsvii, 1». VOL. I. M
our minds, while " clouds and darkness are round about" the throne of the Majesty of Heaven. We need, therefore, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the light of the Lord to shine in our hearts.
3. It implies a sincere desire to learn.—Already they had learned something. We cannot suppose, as they were the disciples of Jesus, that they had all to learn about prayer; or that they had lived to that hour in the habitual neglect of the duty. No: but they wished to pray better: they wanted to attain more than they had yet attained, to pray with more propriety, with more feeling, with more success.
And thus you will find it. The more you know, the more you will want to know; the more you have learned, the more you will still desire to learn. The man who has no higher notion of prayer than as a mere form, or as the decent utterance of so many words, may be content; but if you understand and feel that it is the business of the heart; that it is the lifting up, the pouring out, of the soul unto God, you will not be easily satisfied. In the gift of prayer you will wish to excel; and especially in the grace and spirit of the exercise you will ever want to improve. Yes; you will breathe after closer intercourse with God, greater facility in making known your requests, more affectionate freedom in opening •your whole heart. You will desire, earnestly desire, to feel more in your element at " the Throne of Grace," and to taste more of that holy pleasure, that pure satisfaction, which the saints in their best moments have enjoyed when near the seat of their heavenly Father.
4. It implies something of the true spirit or disposition of prayer already possessed.—These disciples came to Jesus as if destitute of what their very words