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XIV. THE MAN WHO KNOCKED AT MIDNIGHT

It is night. It is midnight. The night is dark. All the lights are out, and everybody is in bed. “Friend! lend me three loaves! For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him!” He knocks again. “Friend! lend me three loaves!” He waits awhile and then he knocks again. “Friend, friend! I must have three loaves!” “Trouble me not: the door is now shut; I cannot rise and give thee!” He is dumb, for a time. He stands still. He turns to go home. But he cannot go home. He dare not go home. He comes back. He knocks again. “Friend!” he cries, till the dogs bark at him. He puts his ear to the door. There is a sound inside, and then the light of a candle shines through the hole of the door. The bars of the door are drawn back, and he gets not three loaves only but as many as he needs, “And I say 170 unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

1. Our Lord Himself was often like that importunate poor man, out at midnight, knocking for bread. When He was a child, He had lain, full of fear, and had heard all that knocking at midnight at Joseph’s door. And, when He became a man, He remembered that sleepless midnight, and spiritualised it and put it into this parable. And often, when He was full of all manner of labours, and all manner of temptations all day, He called to mind that midnight in Nazareth, and knocked again and again till He got as much as he needed. There are things in the Gospels written there—without emotion and without exclamation—at which our hearts stand still, when we suddenly come upon them. “He went up into a mountain to pray: and when the evening was come He was there alone.” And, again, “He departed again into a mountain Himself alone.” And, again, “It came to pass in those days that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” He continued all night. Do you see Him? Do you hear Him? Can you make out what He is asking? He stands up. He kneels down. He falls on His face. He knocks at the thick darkness. All that night He prays, and refuses to faint, till the sun rises, and He descends to 171 His disciples like a strong man to run a race. And in Gethsemane all His past experiences in prayer, and all He had ever said to His disciples about prayer,—all that came back to His mind till His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. No,—we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears . . . And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” And in nothing more than in importunate prayer.

2. And then, just as He was when He was in this world, and just as this importunate poor man was, so are we while the day of our mercy lasts in this world. A friend of ours—so to call him—comes to us in his journey; and we have nothing to set before him. God’s law comes and says to us, Do this, and do that to that man, pointing him out to us. And we set out to do what we are told from God to do: but the thing that we would, we do not: while the thing that we would not, that we do. A temptation that we had not expected, and that we were not prepared for, comes upon us. A heart-searching, a hart-scorching temptation,—till our hearts are as dark as midnight, and as dead as the grave. Duties that we cannot perform as we ought, and cannot 172 escape, are laid upon us. Trials to test and to sift us; and crosses to which to nail our hands and our feet, till, all day, and every day, and every night, like the man in the parable, we have nothing to set before them.

And then, in our famine of life, and peace, and strength, we think—oh, so unwillingly!—of God. How unwelcome is the thought that He has all that we need; and that, if we ask it aright of Him, He will give us all we need! It may be so. But if we could make any other shift we would make it. We have grace enough left to be ashamed to go to God in our need. It is so long since we have been at His door, or in His house, or at His table, or He at ours. He might very well say to us, I do not know you. He might very well say to us, Get some of your own friends to help you. We anticipate that, and also far worse upbraidings than that. And we turn back, we simply cannot go to God. But the intolerable pangs go on. The awful faintness and sinking go on: till very death itself, and worse than death, is at the door, and till we say like the four lepers at the entering in of the gate of Samaria: “Why sit we here until we die? Now, therefore, come and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live: and if they kill us, we shall but die.” It is not a very becoming mind in which to arise and go to our Father. But any of you that is a father does not 173 stands upon points with his son, which was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

3. When the Books are opened it will be discovered that more importunate and prevailing prayer has been offered at midnight than at all the other hours of the day and the night taken together. Look back at your Bible,—that book of importunate and prevailing prayer,—and see! Jacob is the father of all men of importunate prayer. Jacob was called no more Jacob, but Israel, because of his all-night importunity in prayer. A friend of his, his brother Esau, indeed, was to meet him to-morrow, and Jacob felt that he must have all night with God if his life was to be preserved. The sin of his youth had found Jacob out. And it took Jacob all night to see the sin of his youth as God saw it, and as Esau saw it. But he did see it as the night went on. And he called the name of the place Peniel. What midnights David had with sin, and with prayer also, all his Psalms testify. But, best of all, David’s SON. The midnight mountains and the midnight olive-yards of Galilee and Judea will all rise against us when the Books are opened,—the Books about our Lord’s life of prayer, and the books about our own life of prayer. His Books are all closed against that day, but not ours yet. If, to-night, then, a friend of yours should come to you, and you have nothing to set before him: if, in your Saviour’s words, you should 174 come to yourself to-night: and, amid your fear, or your want, or whatever form your awakening may take, if you hear over you and within you this voice saying to you: “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you”: then do it. Do it, as if the Books were to be opened before the world is awake to-morrow morning. Do it, as if already the thief were at your window. Keep your candle burning till you read once more the Parable of the Friend at Midnight. Go through the parable: and go through it on your knees, if not yet on your face. Read it; see it. See Himself,—the Son of God,—praying in a certain place. Attend to Him as He teaches His disciples to pray. See the man at midnight. Imitate that man. Act it all alone at midnight. Leave nothing of it that you do not do over again. See him in his straits. Hear his knocks sounding in the silence of the night. Hear his loud cry, and cry it after him. He needed three loaves. What is your need? Name it. Name it out. Let your own ears hear it. And should some ear in the house overhear it, it will do them good to hear that sound in your room at midnight. Never mind the lateness of the hour: think of the untimeous man in the parable: think of your untimeous Intercessor, and continue in importunate prayer.

4. “Importunity,”—“because of his importunity,” 175—does not do justice to our Lord’s style,—to call it style. What our Lord said was far more to the purpose than “importunity,” excellent as that is. What He said was “shamelessness.” This was what our Lord really said: “I say unto you,” He said, “though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his shamelessness he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” “Think shame!” the man cried out, who was in bed, with his door shut. “Think shame!” the disturbed neighbours cried out. “Think shame!” the late passers-by said. “Hold your peace,” they said, “and let honest men’s doors alone at this time of night.” “Never mind,” says our Lord on the other hand. “Never you mind them: they have bread enough at home: and easy for them to cry shame to a starving man. Never you mind, knock you on. I have been in your place Myself, till they said that I was beside Myself. Knock you on: and I will stand beside you till I see the door open. He must rise if you go on knocking. Give him no rest. Well done! Knock again!” Yes,—shamelessness! “What a shameless wretch I am!” you will say about yourself, “to ask such things, to have to ask such things at my age: to knock so loud after the way I have neglected prayer, and neglected and forgotten the Hearer of prayer.” “At my age,”—you will number your days and will blush with shame,—176 “at my age, and only beginning to pray in any earnest! How many nights have I had no time to give to God! And, now, to expect that when I lift up my finger, and go down five minutes on my carpeted knees, God Almighty is to hasten and set everything aside to hear me!” Yes: you are right: it needs some forehead: it needs some face: it needs, as Christ says, some “shamelessness” in you and me to come in that manner and for these things at midnight. Yes,—it is this that so increases and so aggravates the shamelessness of your case. The shameful things you have to ask for. The disgraceful—the incredible things you have to admit and confess. The life you have lived. The way you have spent your days and nights. And what all that has brought you to. It kills you to have to say such things even with your door shut. Yes,—but better say all these things in closets than have them all proclaimed from the housetops of the day ofjudgment. Knock, man! knock for the love of God! Knock as they knock to get into heaven after the door is shut! Knock, as they knock to get out of hell!

5. And then,—oh! what an experience it is, what a more than heavenly joy it is, when the door is at last opened, and the loaves are handed out! What an indescribable feeling is that in our hearts, when, after years of prayer, followed with midnight after midnight of importunity and agony, light 177 begins to break through: and God’s hand is reached out, and our souls taste the strength and the sweetness of the Bread from heaven. Jacob does not feel his thigh any more. David’s couch, wet with his tears, is all answered now. The bloody sweat of Gethsemane itself is all forgotten now.

6. And then, just before He shuts up His sermon on prayer, our Lord in one word touches the top and the perfection of all prayer,—“importunate prayer, that is, for the Holy Spirit. It is no longer a prayer for bread, or for a fish, or for an egg: it is no longer for long life, or for riches, or for the life of our enemies: it is no longer, What shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? It is now for the Holy Spirit, and for the Holy Spirit alone. Our Lord would fain hear us saying at the end of His sermon: “One thing do I desire, and that will l seek after.” We have all wrestled at midnight, when we saw Esau coming to meet us with his armed men. We have all made our couch to swim with tears when our sin found us out. We have all fallen on our face when death, with his cords and his torches and his weapons, was seen crossing the Kedron. But have we ever been like this man in the parable for the Holy Spirit? For the Holy Spirit, and for His holiness in our hearts? Do we ever—do we often—do we without ceasing knock for holiness? For the death and the destruction of sin in our souls? 178 For faith in God,—to believe that He is when we come to Him? For love to Jesus Christ? For love to our neighbour? For love to our false friends? and to our enemies? For the complete cleansing of our hearts of all hatred, and variance, and emulation, and wrath, and strife, and envy, and such like? Is there, this morning of God, within the walls of this House of God, one man who last night knocked and knocked, and returned after he was in bed and half asleep, and knocked again for more love, for more long-suffering, for more gentleness, for more meekness? For a clean heart? For a heart clean of envy and ill-will? For a heart dead to sin, and to his own besetting and indwelling sin? Is there one? My brethren, God is your witness: for the darkness hideth not from Him: but the night shineth before Him as the day. “But, thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, Which seeth in secret; and thy Father Which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” When the Books are opened—that is to say. When your secret place of prayer is opened. When your midnight is no longer. When the Holy Spirit has finished His midnight work in you. As you pray at midnight, in the thick, and dark, and lonely, and slothful, and all-men-asleep midnight of this evil life, so shall it be answered and fulfilled to you in the morning. Only, understand, and be 179 instructed—not till the morning. Understand this well, that you will get earnests and foretastes before the morning,—but they will only be earnests and foretastes. Submit to this and lay it to heart, that the full answer to your best prayer is not given in this life. You will get the full answer to all your other prayers in this life. Peace with Esau: long life, and riches, and the lives of your enemies: corn, and wine, and oil: what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and wherewithal you shall be clothed. But if your heart is carried on to pray for the Holy Spirit, and for the Holy Spirit alone, you will have to continue in prayer till the morning. Every man in his own order, and in his own time. But then,—when the day breaks:

“What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they? . . . They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more. . . . For the Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Amen.

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