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examples as that of this woman, when you hear of commands to pray without ceasing, can you think that all that is meant is, that you are not altogether to neglect prayer, that you are to pray now and then ? Is it not the plain meaning of Scripture that our prayers should be incessant ? that, as far as may be consistent with the necessities of our present state, we should be praying always ? This is surely the plain and obvious meaning of these passages of Holy Scripture; and it is the meaning that has ever been put upon them by the Church of Christ. And if we did but consider how great and pressing the danger that hangs over us, how very dreadful the condemnation into which we may, nay, we must fall unless God help us, could we be backward to pray earnestly and without ceasing for mercy-for help? The time will soon be when prayers will be in vain, like the prayers of Esau after he had sold his birthright, and found no place for repentance, though he sought it earnestly with tears. His loud and bitter cry was put up too late, and therefore was in vain. If we did but think that the time will be here soon, when it will be too late to cry for mercy, but that now our cry, if unwearied, would be sure to be heard.—could we fail to pray earnestly, heartily, with perseverance? And if you believe, moreover, that He has given a particular promise, that “when two or three are gathered together in His name, He will grant their requests,” cannot you be oftener here, where you are surest your prayers will be heard? And when you are here, will you not try to pray with all your heart and soul ? For else your prayers cannot be received; and let the posture of your body be such as becomes those entreating for mercy. This woman knelt and worshipped when she said, “LORD, help me.” Our blessed Lord HIMSELF knelt at His
prayers. Who is there of us who, if he had been justly condemned to die, and went before a king or a judge to beg his life, would not kneel down? Why, then, are you so cold? Are you less desirous of God's pardon? or do you think that He, that can destroy both soul and body in hell, is less to be feared than those who can but kill the body, and afterwards have no more that they can do?
There can hardly be a much worse sign of the religious state of any generation than this that belongs to us, that we have so many of us left off even to kneel when we profess to be praying to ALMIGHTY GOD.
THE SIN OF SHECHEM AND DINAH, AND ITS FRUITS.
GENESIS xlix. 5-7.
“ Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habita
tions. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united : for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel."
JACOB on his dying bed declared in these words how greatly he disapproved the bloody and treacherous act of revenge his sons Simeon and Levi executed upon Shalem, the city of Shechem, of which you heard in the lesson this evening. And the mark of God's displeasure against this cruel deed of theirs he prophesied would rest upon their children, even after they had entered into the good land God promised them. For He added, "I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” And, therefore, when Jacob's children took possession of the land of Canaan, the tribes descended from each of these two sons had not their land in one place, like almost all the other tribes, but were scattered over different parts of the Holy Land.
And from this history we may learn in many ways the evil and very dreadful consequences of giving reins to our angry passions and wild desires. And it is most needful for us to consider this : for these passions and desires have great power over us ; so great that we cannot depend on anything else to restrain them but the principles of true practical religion, made to sink down into our hearts by the Grace of God.
Last Sunday afternoon, I endeavoured to set before you the blessedness of those who, like Abraham, do so love God above all things, that there is nothing, however dear to them, that they would not give up to secure His favour. Surely they make a wise choice, who are thus willing to lose the whole world and gain their own souls.
Now let us consider the misery of them that do otherwise, that set aside the love of God, and the hope of His rewards, that they may gratify any desire of their own.
Of this number was Esau, who coming in the night, hungry and faint from his hunting, sold for the morsel of meat for which he longed, his claim as Isaac's eldest son, to the first share of those good things which God had promised to his grandfather, this very Abraham, who, sooner than lose it, was willing to give up his most dear son. Afterwards indeed, when it was too late, Esau deeply regretted his folly, and cried, it is said, with an exceeding loud and bitter cry; but "he could find no place of repentance, though he sought it thus carefully with tears." Thus he became to us a type or picture of those amongst ourselves, who at the last day shall wail and gnash their teeth in vain, when they find they have lost their heavenly birthright for the sake of earthly pleasure or earthly gain, and see themselves for ever cast out of the kingdom of God. Such are the dreadful consequences of indulging our desires, of following our own appetites, rather than the holy commandments of God.
And even in this world, what misery, what shame, what remorse, what quarrellings, does our want of self-restraint occasion ? Yea, even malice, and bloodshed, and murder, come of these unrestrained desires and passions.
We might learn this if we would from that remarkable history concerning Dinah and Shechem, which the Church has set before us this afternoon.
For what was the cause of all this bloodshed? Was it not this? That Shechem would not wait till he could gain Dinah in marriage; but giving reins to his wicked and ungoverned lust, first dealt with her as a harlot, whom he intended afterwards to make his wife. Not that he was as bad as too many are; he did not forsake her when he had dishonoured her. For it is said after this, that “his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. And he said to his father, Get me this damsel to wife.” He was willing to make her all the reparation and satisfaction in his
1 The Second Sunday in Lent.
power ; but yet the sacred history plainly shows us that God was much displeased with the act that he had done. For it brought utter destruction, not upon himself and his own family only, but upon the whole place where he dwelt. And Dinah too, who was the partner of his sin, she must have brought bitter sorrow and remorse upon herself for her folly and wickedness. And it is very likely that, because of this sin, she had no share of the blessings of Abraham. Her brothers had all numerous children, and grandchildren, and an offspring in a few generations of many thousands ; but as to her, if she had ever any children at all, they were not numbered among the chosen seed, for of her race or descendants we hear nothing.
And mark the beginning of her sin : Dinah, it is said, went out to see the daughters of the land, that is to say, the Canaanitish women of the country, who were worshippers of false gods ; and like persons without God in the world, lived an easy and worldly life. See the evil and bitter consequences, when young women, who have been themselves brought up in better principles, seek such companions as these. It is a most unlikely thing that she did this with her father Jacob's consent; for as he ever served God faithfully himself, and avoided any close connexion with these wicked and idolatrous Canaanites, we may be sure he would desire his children also to walk in the same steps. And a daughter, especially a young unmarried daughter, every wise and good father would desire to keep out of the company who would teach her harm rather than good.
Here therefore we see another proof of a truth, which every day's experience confirms to us, that disobedience to parents, neglect of their cautions, is sure to bring young persons to misery and ruin. Rebecca, the mother of Jacob and grandmother of Dinah, had said (as you heard in the lesson for this morning), “ I am weary of my life, because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?" Yet these daughters of the land Dinah went out to see, against the wishes of her parents, and to choose herself companions amongst a race given up to the worship of false gods, and to an ungodly course of life. The end was her ruin, the destruction of Shalem, and the guilt of a treacherous and bloody vengeance resting upon two of her brothers. All this sprang from this first error, that she would follow her own desire for pleasure and company, rather than keep at home and continue with her parents. When we once begin to do what we wish, rather than what we know to be right, none can tell what a mass of sin and evil springs from it. What St. James says of the tongue, may be applied to other sins also : “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth ?.' One act of foolish wilfulness may not only bring sin and misery on ourselves, but in its consequences upon many others too.
After this, when Shechem, the prince of the country, sought her to tempt her into sin, she had, as might have been expected, little firmness to resist. And where it is said that he " spake kindly to the damsel,” it is put at the side of the larger Bibles, that it is in the Hebrew (the language in which it was first written), that “he spake to the heart of the damsel ;” which has been considered to signify, that she still continued to listen with favour to him : he doubtless promised her marriage, and he fulfilled his promise, but this did not make her sin the less. She could be in no respect less to blame for that, than she would have been had he afterwards deserted her. In him, indeed, it was some sign that he was not lost to all good principle, that he was willing to make her reparation by marrying her : but this did not lessen in the least degree the guilt of her uncleanness ; nor did it turn away God's displeasure even from him.
As Shechem and Dinah had given way to ungoverned lust, so did two of her brothers to ungoverned anger. All of them felt keenly the disgrace; indeed, it would have been a shocking thing if they had not; it is said, “The men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; which thing ought not to be done.”
There are many, alas ! now, in these days, who think such a
2 James jii. 5.