"Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Intreat the Lord, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the LORD."Exodus 8:8.
HEN IT PLEASES GOD by his judgments to humble men he is never at a loss for means: he can use lions or lice, famines or flies. In the armory of God there are weapons of every kind, from the stars in their courses down to caterpillars in their hosts. The dust of the earth, out of which man is formed, will at God's command forget its kinship, and overwhelm a caravan, while the waters will forsake their channels, invade the tops of the mountains and drown a rebellions race. When the Lord contends against proud men he has but to lift his finger and countless legions throng around him, all loyal to their Lord and valiant for his name. Know ye not that the beasts of the field are his servants, and the stones of the street obey his bidding? Every wave worships him, and every wind knows its Lord. If thou wouldst war against him it would be well for thee to know what his forces are: consider the battle; do no more.
Such prayers are too often an insult to the holiness of God.
Why is it that reprobates take to praying when they are in deep trouble? Frequently superstition moves them. They regard a prayer as a spell or magical charm. So in their folly they send for a minister, and cry, "Intreat the Lord for me." Among many Londoners, so dense is this superstition, that after a poor soul is dead I have heard relatives say, "We sent for the minister, and he came and prayed to him. Mark that word, "prayed to him." Does not this discover the ignorance and superstition of the people? They do not know the design and object of prayer. This superstition needs to be spoken of with great truthfulness and fidelity.
In certain instances the man's hope in prayer is the result of a condemning faith. There is a justifying faith and a condemning faith. "What?" say you. "Does faith ever condemn men?" Yes, when men have faith enough to know that there is a God who sends judgments upon them, that nothing can remove those judgments but the hand that sent them, and that prayer moves that hand. There are persons who yet never pray themselves, but eagerly cry to friends, "Intreat the Lord for me." There is a measure of faith which goes to increase a man's condemnation, since he ought to know that if what he believes is true, then the proper thing is to pray himself. It would have been a wonderfully good sign if Pharaoh had said, "Join with me, O Moses and Aaron, while I pray unto Jehovah that he may take the frogs from me." But, no, he had only a condemning faith, which contented itself with other men's prayers.
In many instances this desire for prayer is one of the movements of the Spirit upon the heart of man. When a poor, afflicted man, in the depth of poverty, struck with consumption, or laid aside by some other deadly disease, desires that a minister would come and pray with him: we will never treat such a wish with neglect. While it is our duty to expose the superstition which often lurks beneath the wish, we also hope that some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel may dwell in it. It is, perhaps, the prodigal saying, "I will arise, and go unto my Father, and I will inquire the way home." I hope it is so.
Take warning, you that do not pray; you will yet need to pray. There will come a time to the most of you when you will not be able to bear yourselves without crying unto God. May God in his infinite mercy lead you to begin at once; for when it can be said of you, "Behold: he prayeth," it will be the best of news. Beginning to pray is the turning point of life. Why not at once set a high price upon that which in times of trouble you will seek for with tears?
Our third observation is thisIN SORE TROUBLE THE PRAYER IS OFTEN A WRONG ONE.
The petitions which men offer when they are in distress are often wrong prayers. Pharaoh said"Intreat the Lord, that he may take away the frogs from me."
A fatal flaw is manifest in that prayer. It contains no confession of sin. He says not, "I have rebelled against the Lord; entreat that I may find forgiveness!" Nothing of the kind: he loves sin as much as ever. A prayer without penitence is a prayer without acceptance. If no tear has fallen upon it, it is withered. Thou must come to God as a sinner through a Savior, but by no other way. He that comes to God like the Pharisee, with, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are," never draws near to God at all; but he that cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner," has come to God by the way which God has himself appointed. There must be confession of sin before God, or our prayer is faulty.
Pharaoh's prayer dealt only with the punishment, "Take away the frogs; take away the frogs; take away the frogs." That is his one cry. So we hear the sick exclaim, "Oh, sir, pray that I may get well." The drunkard begs that he may be helped out of his poverty. The impenitent sinner cries, "Pray that my child may not be taken from me." It is not wrong to pray, "Take away the frogs." We should all have prayed so if we had been surrounded by such pests. The evil is that this was the whole of his prayer. He said not, "Take away my sins," but "Take away the frogs." he did not cry, "Lord, take away my heart of stone," but only" Take away the frogs." Perhaps I am addressing those who are in poverty, sickness, or distress, and all they are crying about is, "Lord, take away the frogs. Deliver me from my poverty, my trouble, my hunger, my disgrace, my punishment." Now, if you have brought yourself into evil by a vicious life, your prayer must not be, "Take away the disease and the poverty," but "Take away the sin." The drunkard's prayer must not be, "Lord, take away the result of my intoxication," but" Remove from me the poisoned cup." Lay the ax at the root, and cry, "Lord, take the sin away." Alas! most of the prayers of men in trouble are only like Pharaoh's selfish prayer, "Take away the frogs." The Lord did hear his petition, but nothing came of it. The frogs were gone, but flies came directly after, and all sorts of plagues followed in rapid succession, and his heart was hardened still.
When ungodly men are under a sense of divine wrath they turn not to God aright: their prayer is devoid of spiritual requests. When Cain had murdered his brother did he express a regret? No. He only murmured, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." Esau sold his birthright. Did he repent of the sin of having been a profane person, and seek pardon carefully? Not he; but he sought carefully with tears to get back his birthright, and he found no place for repentance in his father Isaac; the blessing had gone to Jacob, and on Jacob it must remain. Another telling case is that of Simon Magus. When Peter told him that he was in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity he replied, "Pray ye to the Lord for me that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me;" that was all he cared about. He expressed no desire to be delivered from his evil way, but only to be screened from the consequences of it. Every knave cries out against punishment; but he is attaining to honesty who entreats to be freed from his pilfering habits.
Our last, remark isthat THE SINNER, IN HIS SORE TROUBLES IS VERY APT TO MAKE GREAT PROMISES. Pharaoh cried, "Take away the frogs and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord." In this way one of you talked when you were down with fever, or when you were likely to lose your situation through your folly. You said, "Please God I escape this once, I will be a very different man." Such promises are generally boastful. Notice here the proud language of Pharaoh. "I will let the people go." He does not long talk in this fashion; but now he is a great king, and he gives his royal word, "I will let the people go." Some folks are very big when they promised God, "I will do this, and I will do that." But you cannot, my friend. You reply that you are going to have a new heart and a right spirit. Are you looking to create them yourself? You talk as if you were. I think you said that you were going to "turn over a new leaf": but a new leaf in a bad book may be worse than the old leaf. But you are going to be entirely new, are you? Are you to do all this yourself? You are greatly mistaken; true conversion does not begin by talking of what "I" will do. It begins in casting ourselves upon the Lord, and begging him to work all our works in us.
But this man's promises were all a lie. I daresay that, for the moment, he meant them; but he did not keep his word, for he did not let the people go. "When Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said." Has not that been the case with many others? You promised "faithfully," as you said: you pledged yourself that it; should be so; but it is not so. Stand thou still a while, and hear a message from the Lord: "Thou hast not lied unto men, but thou hast lied unto God." Let that sentence pierce the innermost bowels of thy conscience. "Thou hast lied unto God." Remember Ananias and Sapphira, and what followed upon their falsehood, and be astonished that it has not followed upon yours, for you made the promise before witnesses in the presence of the Lord himself.
Mark well that, in all this, Pharaoh increased his guilt. His vows heaped up his transgressions. He forgot his promises; but God did not. They were laid by in store against him, and the blows of God upon him fell heavier and heavier, until at last Jehovah drowned him and his chosen captains in the Red Sea. Oh, sirs, if God comes to deal with you in this fashion, what will become of you? Your promises are filed in heaven, to be witnesses against you. God reaches out these promises of yours at this hour, and holds them up before your eyes. And what does your conscience say? If you had promised a kind friend, and broken your word, it would have been base enough; but you have been ungrateful to your God, in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways. Let a sense of guilt overwhelm you, and in the name of Jesus Christ ask mercy of your God.
I will tell you how God deals with his own children, and then leave you to infer how he will deal with you if you are not his children. A certain man, to all appearance, feared God, ay, and did so with a sincere heart. He was once an earnest Christian, a member of the church, and a worker in the service, faithful to his light, and fervent in spirit; but he grew cold. He had a farm, and it occupied nearly all his time. He was filled with an intense desire to grow rich, and therefore he devoted his attention to his business till he grew colder and colder in divine things, and the means of grace on the week-days were forsaken. Work for God was dropped, communion with God ceased, and the religious professor became to all appearance an utter worldling. But yet he was a child of God, and this is how his Father restored him. He took from him the wife of his youth, to whom his heart was knit; but this made him more worldly than before, because his wife had been a great help to him in the farm, and now she was gone he must stick to it more than ever. Nothing came of the first chastisement except increased sin. He had only one son, for whom he was saving up his money, and working his business, and he saw that son cut down with consumption, like his mother. This also made him still more worldly. It ought to have brought him to his knees, but it did not. He carried on the practice of prayer, but with little heart, he said, "Now my dear son, who was such a comfort to me, has gone, I can hardly get out on Sundays at all. I must look after the cows and attend to the stock." So he sank deeper in the mire. Then the Lord began to deal with him in another way. He had a bad season, and lost by his farming, careful as he was. Next year was worse, and the cattle-plague emptied his stalls, he was brought down to poverty; he could scarcely keep in the farm, for the rent ran back. Still he did not yield, he had tender moments now and then; but he was usually hard, for he felt that God was dealing severely with him. He felt angry against God, and stuck to his business more than ever, while the things of God were forgotten. Then the Lord took his erring child more closely in hand than before, and sent him an incurable disease in his body. The worldly farmer lay upon a sick bed, fretting about his business: he did not turn to the Lord even then. Last of all, his house took fire, and as the barn and the ricks, and the house were all ablaze, and all that he had was going, they carried him out into the open air upon the bed from which he could not stir, and he was heard to say, "Blessed be the Lord! Blessed be the Lord! I am cured at last." But, dear friends, nothing would cure him till everything was gone from him. Was not that a pity? He was saved so as by fire. He would be "as the horse, and the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle," and therefore he had to suffer for it. I pray you do not copy him. People of God, do not make rods for your own backs in that way. Do not drive your heavenly Father to hard measures. But oh, ye ungodly, if he will deal thus with his children, how will he deal with you who are not his children? If he means to bless you he will not let you go unpunished; but he will smite you with heavy strokes. I remember one who used to bless God for a broken leg: he said that he never ran in the ways of God until he was lame. I believe that some parents never loved the heavenly Father till their dear infant child was taken away. The shepherd tried to get the mother sheep into the fold, but she would not come; so he took up her lamb and carried it away in his arms, and then the mother followed him. He has done that to some of you. You would never have come to Christ if dear little Johnny had not gone home to Jesus: You lost one and another for that same purpose; have you not had strokes enough? You have been smitten till your "whole head is sick and your whole heart faint." Will you not turn unto your God without more ado? His blows are sent in mercy: it is better far that you should have a hell here than a hell hereafter. It were better for you to live a lifelong agony than to be cast into hell for ever. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. He died for sinnersdied for aggravating, guilty, willful sinners, and if they look to him they shall at once be forgiven. I cannot give the look of faith for you, or I would gladly do so; but I beseech you to look and live! May God the Holy Ghost lead you so to do, for Jesus' sake! Amen.