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well known, is to be found in the Pentateuch. And why should there be, if from the beginning of the world, men were accustomed to pray, having been so taught, either from their sense of want and dependence, which continued after their apostacy, or by express revelation from God?
A late eminent divine confirms these views. "It was not the intention of the scriptures," he observes, "to institute this duty anew, in any passage whatever; there being no passage in which it is thus instituted. They took up the subject, in the only way, which was natural or proper. Men had always prayed from the beginning, and on all occasions confessed prayer to be a duty. Nothing more, therefore, was necessary, natural, or proper, than to regulate it as a duty already begun, acknowledged, and practiced by mankind."
"Particular directions," he adds, "concerning the three divisions of this duty, customarily made in modern times, viz. secret, family, and public prayer ought never to have been expected. The question, whether prayer in secret, in the family, or in public, is a duty of man, was probably never asked; nor the obligation to perform it in either case doubted, during the whole period from the beginning of the world to the completion of the Scripture Canon. Men always prayed on every solemn and proper occasion; in public, in private, and in secret." ""*
If the preceding views be correct, we must look for some other interpretation of the passage, "Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord," than that which here dates the commencement of the practice, or the institution of prayer. What then is the import of the passage?
Jewish interpreters, for the most part, understand the words as indicating the origin, or commencement of idolatry. The Hebrew term for "began," will admit of being rendered profaned, or profanely began to worship God, i. e., they worshiped him by means of idols; and thus began that degeneracy
* Dwight's Theology, Vol. V. p. 29.
which finally led to the destruction of the earth, and its guilty inhabitants by the flood. It cannot be denied that this interpretation has respectable advocates. And it must be conceded, that the heavenly bodies were early worshiped, from which to inferior objects, the descent was easy; so that, at length, such worship prevailed over nearly the whole earth. But whether this passage marks the precise era, when such idolatry began, may well be questioned. Previous to this, Cain and his family had withdrawn from the pious portion of mankind. They were a guilty race, and would early fall into the worship of other objects, than the one great and glorious Lord of all.
According to other expositors, the marginal reading is the correct one. "Then began men to call themselves by the name of the Lord" i. e. then began a portion of men, (viz.; the children of Seth) to be distinguished from the descendants of Cain, by an open and special profession of God's holy name, and by being recognized as his true worshipers. Perhaps the distinction of, "sons of God," and "sons of men,” to which allusion is made in the following chapter, then began more generally to prevail.
The more common interpretation, however, is, and it is one which, to say the least, gives us intelligence of a delightful advance of piety in that far off, but alienated, and perhaps, impious age of the world, "that about that time began a more complete separation of the pious from the ungodly; that the name of God began to be invoked in a more open and public manner, and the ceremonies of his worship to be more solemnly observed. Adam and his pious offspring had doubtless at an earlier day maintained the worship of God "in their families, and in their closets; but, till the human race was considerably multiplied, no occasion existed for what may be denominated public worship. But when families became so numerous, that they were obliged to separate, then it was necessary to call them together, at stated times and seasons,
that they might collectively receive instruction, and keep up an habitual reverence for God."* Thus the more public worship of God began.
THE WORSHIP OF ABRAHAM.
Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first; and there Abraham called on the name of the Lord.-Gen. xiii. 4.
THE "place of the altar," to which allusion is here made, was Bethel, which signifies "house of God." It was a name given to it by Jacob, in after times, when on his journey from Beersheba to Haran; but, in the days of Abraham it was called Luz. It was situated some fifteen, or twenty miles north of Jerusalem. Moses, the author of the Pentateuch, often speaks of places by the appellation they bore at the time he wrote, instead of their original names.
At Bethel the Lord had appeared to Abraham soon after he reached the promised land, a distance from Haran, in Mesopotamia, of some five or six hundred miles. Here he had pitched his tent; builded an altar, and "called upon the name of the Lord."
This, indeed, would seem to have been his constant practice, wherever he sojourned (12. 7: 13. 18.) "Wherever he had a tent," says Henry, "God had an altar, and an altar sanctified by prayer. He erected his own altar that he might not participate with idolators in the worship offered upon theirs."
While sojourning at Bethel, or in its vicinity, a "grievous famine" occurred, which compelled the patriarch to remove with his household. Accordingly, turning south, he directed his course towards the fertile country of the Nile. At this time, he was poor; but after a residence in Egypt for some time, his temporal condition had greatly improved; since, ac
* Bush's Notes, in loco.
cording to the sacred narrative, on his return to Canaan, he was "very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.”
On once more reaching the promised land, he repaired to a spot, which, in former years, had been endeared to him by the manifestations of the divine mercy; "unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first; and there Abraham called on the name of the Lord."
On the occasion of first building that altar, before which he now stood, he had many and joyful reasons for thanksgiving and praise. It had been preserved, during a long and untried journey; he had entered the land of promise, and been protected in the midst of a proud, imperious, and idolatrous people. But, how greatly were those reasons for thankfulness and praise increased! He had been sustained during a grievous famine; he had gone down into the land of the Pharoahs, where, in respect to his wife, losing confidence in the assurances of divine protection, he had been guilty of an unworthy deception; yet, God had delivered him from his fears; had enlarged his house, and increased his wealth; why should he not be grateful? Why not remember the way, in which God had brought him, and renew his pledges of love and fidelity to Him, who had thus already favoreà him, and moreover had promised him blessings, which in their influence should extend to nations yet unborn?
An old divine, in commenting on the practice of Abraham in regard to prayer, has well observed:
1. "All God's people are praying people. As soon will you find a living man without breath, as a living christian without prayer.
2. "Those who would approve themselves upright with God, must be constant and persevering in religion. Abraham did not leave his religion behind him, as many do, when they travel."
The fidelity of Abraham to his religion, wherever he so'ourned, does, indeed, rebuke a multitude in modern times;
who, with more light and knowledge, might be expected to be even more scrupulous in their practice. But their conduct, instead of adding to, greatly detracts from, the honor of religion.
Take, for example, a professor of the gospel, a young man, who, for the purpose of business or pleasure, leaves his home, and commences a journey among strangers. From the day he sets forth, his devotional duties are, perhaps, imperfectly performed, or entirely suspended! Instead of seeking out as he passes on, for those who love the name of Jesus, consorting with them, and holding communion with them, he finds his pleasure in associating with the gay and volatile; and is, at length, found mingling with the vicious and profane. Is religion attacked? He regrets it, indeed, but has no courage to defend his master's cause. Are professors derided? Quite possibly his previous conduct requires silence, lest the finger of scorn should be pointed at him.
It is urged, that in stages, in steamboats, and in railroad cars it is difficult to attend to devotional duties, or maintain a devotional frame? This is not denied. But the very difficulty creates a necessity for universal watchfulness and effort. Granted that the professor may not find his own quiet "Bethel," while a passenger, may he not lift his heart to God? May he not maintain a devotional spirit? And if his absence be long, will he not occasionally stop? Happy is it, if, when opportunity allows, he is ready to avail himself of it, to renew his intercourse with his Heavenly Father, and gather fresh strength for days to come.
The great desideratum is to keep the heart right. If that be so kept; if a sense of holy obligation be duly cherished; if we rouse ourselves to appropriate moral courage, we shall be able to attend to the duties of piety in every situation, whether at home or abroad; whether on excursions for pleasure or business.
Mr. Bickersteth gives an account of a pious man, who was