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-Bounteous Giver of all good,
Thou art of all thy gifts, thyself the crown:
The answer, which God gives to the prayer of Moses, inculcates an important practical lesson; viz.: the use of those means, which are directly prescribed by God; or by which the blessings sought are ordinarily attained.
The children of Israel may be healed, if bitten; but a brazen serpent must be made, not one of silver or of gold; and it must be made by Moses, or under his direction; not each one for himself, nor by an elder for a tribe, but one for the nation. And it must be elevated upon a pole, and the poisoned or bitten must look upon it, and they must look in faith. Every one of these agencies, or circumstances, are essential to an answer to the prayer of Moses, if an individual would be benefited.
There is not, perhaps, a more important consideration, connected with prayer, than this. Prayer should be offered, but means are not to be neglected. God can, indeed, answer the prayers of his children, directly, without their using means; and, perhaps, he sometimes does, but this is not common, nor is it to be expected. He might, in answer to prayer, lift a shipwrecking vessel safely on to the shore; but who expects this? The crew must use all ordinary means, by which to anchor that vessel, in some safe place, or steer her on to some safe strand. God could give us harvests, without our ploughing, or sowing; but who thus dares tempt Providence?
A writer has remarked with great truth-but he might apply it to others, as well as to the "young," and the "ignorant " "There is a species of enthusiasm, not uncommon, and to which young or ignorant professors of religion are exposed, that is, to expect the blessing desired in prayer, without any effort or exertion on our part. But in the Bible you may constantly see how those who earnestly prayed, used
the most likely means to effect their desires. Though Jacob passes the night in prayer, he still, in the morning, takes the. best means to pacify his brother Esau.
"Asa sets the battle in array, as well as cries to God, 'we rest on thee.' Bishop Hall says of Moses, when Israel was about to contend with Amalek, 'I do not hear Moses say to his Joshua, Amalek is come up against us; it matters not whether thou go against him or not; or, if thou go, whether alone, or in company; or, if accompanied, whether by many or few, strong or weak; or, if strong men, whether they fight or not; I will pray on the hill;' but he says, 'choose us out men, and go, and fight.' Then only can we hope, when we have done our best; and though means cannot effect that which we desired, yet God will have us use the likeliest means on our part to effect it. Prayer, without the use of means, is mockery." *
These truths deserve to be engraven on some tablet, to be hung before the eye of the Christian, where he usually prays, that the due use of means is just as essential as prayer itself. And it is doubtless through the neglect of practising upon this plain but cardinal truth, that so many petitions receive, and can receive, no answer.
JOSHUA'S PRAYER AFTER THE DEFEAT AT AI.
And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lora until the even-tide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. And Joshua said, Alas! O Lord God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies? For the Canaanites, and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name? And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?-Joshua vii. 6-10.
MOSES has gone to his reward, and Joshua has succeeded to the command of Israel. The passage of the Jordan has been effected. Jericho has been taken. The Israelites are encamped on the soil of Canaan, and have begun the subjugation of the land.
The first place, against which a detachment is sent, is Ai; a city situated some ten miles north of Jerusalem, and embracing a large population. Ch. 8: 25. Previously to the attack, Joshua had sent men to reconnoitre the place, and report its condition. The city was represented as weak and defenceless, and but a small detachment was deemed necessary to take it. Without the usual precaution of consulting God, as to his movements, in relation to an attack, Joshua sends forward a detachment of only three thousand menthirty-six of whom were killed, and the main body repulsed. This was, indeed, an inconsiderable loss; but even this, and much more the repulse, occasioned surprise. It was manifest that, for some reason, the divine hand was against them. In this state of uncertainty and anxiety, Joshua betakes himself to a throne of grace. There, with the elders of Israel, he humbles himself; there, "until even-tide," he and they remain before the footstool.
So far, it must be conceded, Joshua pursued a wise and becoming course. And, moreover, his pleas are excellent, and his concern for the honor of God worthy the successor of Moses. But are there not portions of his prayer apparently censurable? "To consider this trivial check," as Dr. Scott remarks, "as the forerunner of total ruin; to inquire wherefore the Lord had brought them over Jordan; and to admit the thought, that it was in order to deliver them into the hands of the Amorites-were proofs of unbelief, which may be accounted for, but were wholly inexcusable, especially after the express promises, and miraculous success, just before received."
Yet, God kindly answers Joshua's prayer; and while he was yet lying prostrate, as is supposed, before the ark. In that answer there is, at first view, the semblance of rebuke; but it is, probably, in appearance only. God would seem to intimate that his mournful posture had been continued sufficiently long. There was urgent business to be done. He must arise, and address himself to the discovery of an accursed thing, which had taken place in Israel; and which, while it remained covered and unpunished, would prevent the divine aid in subduing his enemies.
An important practical truth is suggested by the preceding narrative, viz: that duty sometimes calls us from a throne of grace, as clearly as, in other cases, it directs us to it.
Joshua was quite right, on receiving intelligence of the defeat of the Israelitish detachment at Ai, to spread the case before God, and to continue his supplication, till he was favored with an answer. But no sooner is he informed of the state of things in the camp of Israel, and of the necessity of probing the wounds which had been caused, than it became his duty to rise, and, leaving a throne of grace, to discharge that now more imperative duty. So God decided; and vain, therefore, would it have been for Joshua to have sought the continued favor and aid of God, while the existing
evil was not remedied, and the sullied honor of God was not vindicated.
And often would the Christian be otherwise more appropriately employed, than continuing at a throne of grace, obligatory as the duty may be, that he should abound in prayer. Take an example: a Christian has wronged his neighbor, either in respect to his property or his good name. In some hour of temptation, he may have exacted more than was his due, or he may have spoken to the injury of his neighbor's reputation. Is the place of prayer the proper place for that Christian? He should, indeed, humble himself before God; he may ask forgiveness; but, while at a throne of grace, with the guilt of transgression upon him, might not God well address him, as he did Joshua: "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?" Go, and repair the wrong you have done. Go, confess your fault. Make restitution. This is your first and paramount duty. Until that is done, a throne of grace is no befitting place for you. Your confessions; your tears; your vows, are of no avail, while you neglect the golden rule of doing to others as you would have them do to you.
Until the Christian is willing to repair wrongs done to others, he is not repentant; and, without a broken heart and contrite spirit, how can he expect pardon and acceptance from God? Says the Psalmist: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
While I my inward guilt supprest,
No pardon could I find;
Thy wrath lay burning in my breast,
Then I confessed my troubled thoughts;
My secret sins revealed:
Thy pard'ning grace forgave my faults;