<< THE lMPORTUNATE MIDNIGHT FRIEND. >>
EFFORT NECESSARY TO RECEIVE SPIRITUAL LIFE.
5Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness[e] he will get up and give him as much as he needs.(LUKE XI. 5-8.)
Heaven flows into the open human mind. And, therefore, we need to keep our hearts and understandings always open to the Lord, that He may fill us with good and truth. And, for this purpose, constant, persistent and sincere efforts are necessary.
METHOD OF INTERPRETATION.
The text well illustrates the fact that a parable is to be interpreted spiritually, and by correspondences, and not merely by natural comparisons, It would be blasphemous to say that the Lord, like the friend in the parable, could be indifferent to the needs of men, or unwilling to take the trouble to serve men; or that we could, by persistent asking, finally weary Him into doing for us, what His own love would not have impelled Him to do. The Lord has not periods of inactivity, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
There cannot be a literal parallel between the action of the sleeping friend, in the parable, and the Lord. The conduct of the friend was unneighborly and unfriendly. But the Lord never omits an opportunity to do good to men. He is, like the sun, with its heat and light, always seeking to give to everyone; and every man receives all the spiritual life that he will open himself to receive. And the Lord plainly teaches men that they will not be heard in heaven, on account of the quantity of their praying, but according to its quality. When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do ; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye, therefore, like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him. After this manner, therefore, pray ye.” Then follows The Lord's Prayer," the model prayer. The Lord loves to give to all men ; and the unwillingness is on the part of men. Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life. And him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.
APPEARANCES OF INDIFFERENCE.
From the literal sense of the Bible, not intelligently understood, and practically misunderstood by minds holding false doctrines, there is received an idea that the Lord does not always help men as soon as He might. And there were times when Jesus, Hirnself seemed to be somewhat indifferent to requests, and not prompt in granting prayers for help. Take, for instance, the case of the Greek woman, mentioned in Matthew xv. 21-28, and in Mark vii. 25-29, who besought Jesus to cast out a devil from her daughter. At first, "He answered her not a word." And, afterwards, He answered her indirectly. But, finally, He healed her daughter.
CAUSE OF DELAY.
But the apparent delay of Jesus was for the purpose of helping the woman to strengthen her faith, and come into condition to receive the help which He was about to give her. Thus, the Lord's seeming delay induces the man to urge himself forward to more receptive conditions. Many men, like Peter, think they are ready to receive heavenly life long before they are truly ready. And the Lord, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, guards us against prematurely coming into contact with conditions that we will not maintain.
The trouble with men is not that they can not get good and truth in abundance, but that they will not; i.e., they will not give up their evils, which obstruct the coming of good and truth into their minds and lives. And it is also true that we value anything according to how long, and how earnestly, we have desired it, and worked for it. And thus, by apparent delay, the Lord increases our spiritual strength of character, and renders heavenly things more precious to us.
NEED OF PERSISTENCY.
While, therefore, the text does not afford a literal parallel between the unwilling friend and our ever-willing Lord, yet it teaches us that, if even selfish men are won over by earnest and persistent asking, we need not doubt the Lord's willingness to give us any spiritual good that we earnestly and persistently desire and seek. But the earnestness and persistency are not needed in order to influence the Lord, but in order to develop our own character.
THE INWARD MEANING: THE FRIENDS.
In the parable, both of the friends mentioned represent the Lord, but in different aspects. The first-named friend, to whom the man goes for bread, represents the Lord as to good, i. e., as to His Divine Love : and the second friend, who had just come from his journey, represents the Lord as to His Truth, His Divine Wisdom, Truth is the mental way, or path, by which we travel to goodness.
A man on a journey represents one who is progressing in the truth, who is using the truth, to attain an object in life. And the truth, itself, is always on a journey, in the minds of men; it is making gradual progress through the man’s memory, and through his understanding, into his heart. So, in Nathan's parable to David, it was a "wayfaring man," i. e., a man on a journey, who came to the house, needing food. Thus the truth carne to the man's mind, seeking to unite with his good affections. And, as the Lord is the Truth, so the journey of the truth is the journey of the Lord, in approaching a man's mind, and in entering into his mind to abide there.
The traveller arrived at midnight. This was not an unusual occurrence in Eastern countries; for, on account of the great heat of the day, journeys were often made at night. Mentally, midnight is a state of ignorance, mental darkness, before the mind attains a knowledge of truth. All men are born ignorant, both naturally and spiritually, and all need to acquire knowledge. But all men have rationality, or the inherent capacity to understand truth, which capacity needs to be opened and developed. The Lord comes to us in His holy truth, when His truth begins to make an impression upon the midnight darkness of our minds.
As midnight is the end of one day, and the beginning of another, so it represents a state of mental darkness, or ignorance, just before the beginning of a new state of mind; a new state of instruction in truth, from the Lord. The Psalmist sings, "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee, because of Thy righteous judgments." And, while this might have been, literally, a devotional habit with David, it represents the spiritual condition in which the mind arises to higher states, when the Lord's truth comes upon us, in our midnight darkness, and displays to us the righteousness of the Lord.
And we remember that, in the parable of "The Virgins," it was at midnight that the cry was made, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet him." And when the Lord, as a "friend," comes to us, in His truth, in our midnight darkness, and we begin to have some love for this truth, and some earnest desire to receive it, and to secure the practical good to which it points, then, spiritually, we arouse ourselves, and prepare to receive such truth, and to treat it with hospitality.
NOTHING TO SET BEFORE HIM.
But, on reflection, we see that there is no good in us, in which the truth can feel at home, and which can serve as a base, or support, for this truth; i. e., we find that our friend has come to us, at midnight, but we have nothing in our mental house to set before him. In the light of the new truth, we find ourselves destitute of any good, any profound love for truth, or any practical life of obedience to truth.
And, in this extremity, what can we do? We think of another "friend," who can help us, in our emergency ; we think of the Lord's goodness; and we look to Him, to help us to acquire goodness. We see that His truth demands attention and support; and then we turn to His love, to aid us in entertaining His truth. We go to Him, with the acknowledgment that we have received His truth into our mental house, but that we have no good of our own, with which His truth can be united.
And so we go to Him for “bread," the practical good of life, which shall feed and sustain the new truth that has come to us, and which can give us spiritual nourishment. We ask for" three loaves," for practical goodness, in its fulness, in all degrees, in the will , in the understanding, and in the conduct. For three, as a number, represents fulness, or completeness, especially as to truth.
Here, in connection with bread, it refers to the good of truth, the goodness which is to support the truth. And this we acknowledge that we have not, of ourselves, and in our own mental house; and so we go to our Lord, to borrow it from Him. And we receive from the Lord such good as we are in a state to appreciate.
To a great extent, we must take good upon authority, obeying the law because the Lord so commands, This is borrowed bread. But, afterwards, we make goodness our own, in actual life, and from love of goodness, in conjunction with the Lord.
But the Lord cannot give us goodness merely for the asking. Truth, can be taught and communicated, for the asking, but not goodness. "We must, as of ourselves, make goodness by using the truth. Of course, the Lord gives us the goodness ; but He can give it to us by our co-operation, only.
And, when we first approach the Lord, and seek goodness, He seems to be indifferent to our requests. He seems to say to us, "'Trouble Me not." Of course, this is merely an appearance, for the Lord is never indifferent, or unwilling, towards any man, even the most evil. He is always doing all He can do, to give good to men, and to mitigate the self-inflicted sufferings of the devils in the hells. But, when men do not understand the way in which the Lord helps them, they imagine that He does not intend to help them.
It is said of the friend in the house, "And he, from within, shall answer," etc. Thus, the apparent indifference of the Lord arises from the man's own inward thought, when he sees his own unworthiness, and supposes that God will not condescend to look favorably upon a sinner.
We notice this ignorant state of thought, in men who say they will not join the Church until they are good enough; failing to see that men ought to join the Church because they are not good enough, and because the Church is a means of helping them to become better. No man on the earth is perfectly good.
When a man thinks of the difference between his character and the Lord’s character, he often imagines that the Lord has shut the door between them, and will not condescend to re-open it. The door, or doorway, is a means of communicating between two places.
In our minds, there are two doors, the natural door, communicating with natural life in the world, and the spiritual door, opening towards heaven and the spiritual life. Naturally, the natural door of the mind is open to the outer world : and the spiritual door is shut, until man is willing to have it opened; i. e., until he is willing, by repentance and reformation, to come into a mental state in which the Lord can open the door to the man's spiritual consciousness.
But the man often imagines that the Lord is not willing to open the spiritual door. But the Lord has made His Divine Humanity the “ Door," through which men may enter into spirituality of life. Jesus said, “I am the Door; by Me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." When the door (between a mans mind and heavenly goodness) is shut, the man, himself is the one who keeps it shut. And yet, in his ignorance of spiritual life, he imagines that the Lord shuts the door.
THE BED, ETC.
The man in the parable also said, “My children are with me, in bed." Children, as derived from their parents, represent new principles of life, as outbirths of older states, or as new states, succeeding the older ones. The bed, on which we rest, represents the doctrine, on which the mind rests. For instance, in Isaiah xxviii. 20, we read, "The bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it;" i. e., the false doctrine is too short, mentally; it will not allow the mind to expand, and to exercise itself in freedom: it cramps the affections, and restrains the thoughts. The children are in the bed; i. e., the new principles are to be found in the true doctrine of the Church, from the Lord’s Word.
The Scriptures are not given as formulated doctrine, but as the reservoir, whence doctrine is intelligently and rationally to be drawn ; as nature is not exact science, but is the reservoir from which science is intelligently and rationally to be drawn, But, as nature cannot be understood without exact science, so the Lord's Word cannot be understood without true doctrine. True doctrine is spiritual science, which is needed, in order to understand spiritual things. And so the man who approaches the Lord, without proper knowledge of doctrine, does not understand how the Lord can help him to acquire goodness, as "the bread of life." He is often discouraged, because he does not clearly understand the doctrine.
And so the Lord seems to say to him, “I cannot rise, and give thee." But the fact is, that the man does not “rise" to the clear understanding of the doctrine : i. e., he does not elevate his mind above the region of the natural senses and their plane of thought. God cannot "rise," in the man's mind, until the man is willing to exert himself to rise to higher and more spiritual views of the Lord, and of humanity. God rises, as we lift Him up, in our thoughts and affections. .
Thus the Lord first "rises," and then "gives" to us ; i. e., as we lift up the Lord, in our minds, such an elevation gives us new states of life. "Let God arise; let His enemies be scattered;" i. e., when we exalt the Lord, in our hearts, our evils and falsities will be scattered from His presence.
“I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet, because of his importunity he will rise, and give him as many as he needeth." As already remarked, the conduct here mentioned cannot furnish a literal parallel to the Lord's ways, For "The Lord is good to all, and His tender-mercies are over all His works." "He maketh His sun to shine on the evil and on the good,. and sendeth rain on the Just, and on the unjust." But the Lord, though he offers all good to all men, cannot actually communicate good to any man, except in the degree in which the man is open to receive good. The Lord cannot, from His love to men, and as their Divine Friend, give them whatever they outwardly ask for; but He can give them that only, which they inwardly desire, and live for. And their own persistent effort and earnestness will open them to the reception of the Lord's gifts.
Prayer and earnest effort will not change the Lord, nor make Him any more ready to give; but they will change the men, themselves, and make them more capable of receiving. "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." But nothing can fill with good and truth the man who has no hunger for goodness, nor thirst for truth.
And so the Lord, working in man, first produces in the man a desire for spiritual life; and then this desire makes the man conscious of a longing for goodness. And as the man earnestly seeks goodness, he opens himself to receive it, from the Lord. The mere importunity of the man, in asking, does not, of itself, result in an answer to his prayer; for it is the Lord who inspires the man with earnest desire. But, as the man, in his own consciousness and as of himself, lives for goodness, the Lord can answer his prayer for goodness.
ACCORDING TO NEED.
And then the Lord can give the man "as many as he needs ;" i. e., all the good that he is open to receive; all that he will use. As the man resists and shuns his evil inclinations, he makes room in his mind and life for goodness. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things." "Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.... He will fulfil [i. e., fill full,] the desire of them that fear Him;” When a new truth comes to us, as a friend, we can call upon the Lord, as a Friend, to supply us with a corresponding quality of goodness, which shall be the food of the new truth.
Though the Lord is always seeking to communicate good and truth to us, yet He can do so, practically, only when we maintain continued effort of our will to procure blessings, and to shun evils. For the measure in which we receive good from the Lord, is the measure in which we, as of ourselves, practically shun evils. Therefore, in order to attain spirituality of life, a man must be thoroughly interested in such life, and persistently earnest in seeking it; knowing that, thus, he can surely receive all the goodness that he will live himself into.
All we have to do, then, is to shun evils, and do good; and, without fainting, without failing, without fretting, without discouragement, without doubting, learn the truth which points out the good, and bravely go on, practising the truth until we secure the good. Jesus left us both His precepts and His example.
The natural man tires; in waiting (as he supposes) for the Lord’s plans to mature. But his own impatience as to results is one cause of the delay. The fact is, that the Lord is always waiting for the man to come into a state to receive spiritual life. With every man, as with Israel on the journey to Canaan, there is a short way to the promised land.; and the man may take it, if he will. But men’s own evils drive them to wander towards Canaan in a long and round-about way. The short way is the way of obedience to the Lord's commandments.
Men need more spiritual earnestness, and more persistent effort. These, with right motives, always succeed.. " He that endureth to the end, shall be saved;" not only the natural end, or conclusion, but also the spiritual end, the purpose of the ruling-love. For the sake of preserving our spirituality, we must bravely endure all the struggles against our evils. The only permanent earnestness is that which embodies a good purpose in rational action.
One great secret of life is contentment. If we cannot have what we think we want, then we should be satisfied to want what we can have. We cannot have just what we want, for the mere asking; but we can have what we earnestly ask for, by living for it. And, when we do not receive just what we ask for, the Lord will give us what we really need, and are able to receive, profitably to our souls. Often, the Divine Wisdom must withhold that for which we unwisely ask.
Our prayer does not need to be constant in external form. There are uses to perform, that will not allow us to be always engaged externally in prayer. There is true prayer in every performance of our uses. Every effort we make to shun evil, and to do good, is a living prayer for the Lord's help. And it is the kind of prayer which can be most readily answered; for the answer is in the strength and support that we receive, to uphold us in our efforts. Thus "ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887