« السابقةمتابعة »
I. To shew, that God has in numerous instances delayed for a time to answer the requests of his praying people. And
II. To exhibit the probable reasons for this particular feature of his administration.
The first instance I shall mention, in which God has delayed the requests of his people, is that of the Israelites in Egypt. No doubt there were pious, praying souls in the land of Egypt, during the whole residence of the children of Israel in that country. These were aware, probably, that their present bondage had been foretold, and their deliverance promised, unto their father Abraham; and they were waiting with many prayers, and tears, and groans, for the fulfillment of the precious promise. Prayer after prayer was offered up, and prayer meeting after prayer meeting perhaps attended, to plead the faithfulness of their covenant God, and implore deliverance at his hands. Yet, how long he was pleased to try them with delay ? It was not till four dismal centuries had moved slowly away, in the course of which innumerable distresses and hardships were endured, and generation after generation went weeping to the dust, that their all powerful Deliverer was heard to declare, "I have seen, I have seen-the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and have heard their groaning and their cry, and am come down to deliver them."
We have a similar instance in the descendants of this same people, during their captivity at Babylon. Among the captives at Babylon, there were certainly a considerable number who were truly and eminently pious. Here was Daniel; here was Ezekiel ; here were the youths who passed through the fiery furnace; here were Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel,
Jeshua, and doubtless many others of a similar character. It was no secret to these persons, that God had delivered them into the hand of the king of Babylon for their sins, and had expressly promised their restoration; and they were much in prayer to him for this desirable event. The prayers of Daniel and Nehemiah relative to this subject, we find recorded in the volume of inspiration.* These should probably be regarded as no more than specimens of the humble confessions and fervent cries of the people of God in those distressing times. Yet, to no less than sevent y years, could their painful captivity be limited. One long age, with all its incidents and woes, must pass over their desolate land and ruined temple, before their prayers could be answered, and their deliverance effected.
God delayed for a long time to answer the prayers of his waiting people, in regard to the coming of the Messiah. Soon after the fall of our first parents, a Saviour was promised. This promise in subsequent ages was often repeated, and clearer and brighter intimations of his future appearing and kingdom were given. On this expected Saviour, the eyes and hearts of all the ancient believers were fixed; and his coming was with them an object, not only of faith, but of fervent desire and unceasing prayer. Who can tell, how many holy desires were felt, and how many prayers were offered up, that the expected Messenger might come speedily to his temple, and that the Lord would visit and redeem his people? Yet how long this promised Saviour was delayed? Four thousand years must roll over the waiting earth -more than twice the period which has elapsed since the commencement of the Christian era-before the
*See Dan. ix. and Neh. i.
promises could be fulfilled, or the expectations of God's people be realized and their prayers heard, in the actual coming and kingdom of their beloved Lord.
The primitive Christians experienced a distressing delay, in regard to the expected overthrow of idolatry, and the triumphs of the gospel.-At the period of our Savior's advent, the vast Roman empire had extended itself over the civilized world. This was an idolatrous, persecuting government, under which Christ himself was crucified, and multitudes of his early disciples were slain. It had been revealed to the apostles, and through them to the Church, that this great and bloody empire would at some period "be taken out of the way." It was implied also in numerous predictions and declarations of the sacred books, that the religion of Christ was to take its place and prevail over the civilized earth. Here then was an object of expectation and prayer, presented to the minds of the primitive believers; and when we reflect how much they were exposed, and how much they suffered, from the persecuting power of the Romans, and how deeply they were interested in the promised subversion of this power by the growing kingdom of their Lord, it will be readily conceived that their prayers would be fervent and persevering. Yet these fervent prayers were not soon answered. Century after century passed away, while the flames of persecution continued to rage, and all methods of torture were exhausted upon the bodies of the defenceless saints-while the people of God were crying to him for deliverance, and the very souls under the heavenly altar are represented as pleading, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth,"-and
before the persecutions of pagan Rome were at an end, and the religion of Jesus, possessing in triumph the throne of the Cesars, became the religion of the civilized world.
It may be observed again, that God delayed for a long time to answer the prayers of his distressed people, in regard to the reformation from Popery.—It was soon discovered, after the government of Rome had passed into the hands of Christians, that the possession of power was likely to prove far more injurious to them than the want of it. A secular spirit began to discover itself, particularly among the clergy; bishops became princes rather than pastors; and the holy duties of religion were neglected, for the pageantry, pomp, and parade of the world. This wicked spirit continued to increase, and to display itself in the Church of God, till it issued in the creation of an ecclesiastical tyranny, the most astonishing and cruel that the world ever saw. From about the eighth to the sixteenth century, was emphatically a season of spiritual bondage. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." The professed followers and Ministers of Jesus, were in many instances no better than infuriated bigots, before whom every thing fair, and holy, and lovely, withered and fell. Still there were a few, during the whole of this painful period, who wept in secret places over the desolations of Zion, and waited and prayed for a brighter day. It may be said of them, as it has been of their Divine Master,
"Cold mountains and the midnight air,
In deserts, in dens, and in caves of the earth, they were accustomed to assemble, that they might enjoy
Amolested the worship of their God, and plead with him for a reformation.-Their prayers were answered; but not till after a long delay. Centuries of suffering and sorrow must elapse; generation after generation went down to the dust; and cruelties inHumerable and unparallelled were endured; before the chains of darkness were broken, and the long expected reformation burst upon the world.
That feature of the Divine administration which the instances here referred to are fitted to illustrate, it may be thought is a very mysterious one. God loves his people with an everlasting love, feels tenderly for them in all their afflictions, and is bound, by promise and by oath, to seek their good. "He that toucheth you," saith he, "toucheth the apple of mine eye." Why then, when they cry to him for help, should he not immediately answer? Why should he delay, age after age, and century after century? Or why should he delay at all?
1. One probable reason for these delays is, that he may try the faith and affection of his people. It is of great importance to the saints that they be pro
perly tried; and in his various dealings with them, God seems to have kept this object specially in view. He detained Israel forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble them, and prove them, to know what was in their heart." And he suffered numbers of the Canaanites to remain in the promised land, "that through them he might prove his people, whether they would keep the way of the Lord or not." Should God never try the faith of his saints, how could it be known by creatures that they possessed any real faith? Or should he never put their love to the test, how could it appear that their affection was genuine? The trial of their graces is also necessary