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DISCOURSES, ESSAYS, &c.
STIRRING UP OURSELVES TO TAKE HOLD OF GOD. By The Rev. H. 0. Crofts, D.D.
"take hold of God" is a remarkable phrase, and, so far as we recollect, is used only by the prophet Isaiah. The phrase, with a little variation, is used four times by that prophet. The first time it occurs is in the xxvii. of Isaiah. There God is the speaker, and he says, "Fury is not in me; who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together. Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me." The second and third times this sentiment is uttered is in the lvi. of Isaiah, and it stands in this connexion: "For thus saith the Lord unto my eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and that take hold of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house, and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves unto the Lord, to serve him and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called the house of prayer for all people." The fourth time we meet with the idea is in the following passage: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags: and wo all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have carried us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirrcth up himself to take hold of thee." (Isaiah lxiv. 6, 7.) Here wo are taught that true prayer, prevailing prayer, is something more than merely calling upon God's name, it is "taking hold of God." If we would make peace with God, we must "take hold of his strength." If we would have "a name better than of sons and daughters," if we would be joyful in God's house of prayer and have our sacrifices accepted of God, we must " take hold of his covenant." If we would not have our piety wither, lose its beauty and drop off as leaves in autumn, and ourselves become despicable and contemptible, we must call upon God's name; yea, stir up ourselves to " take hold of God." Some may deem it presumption, or blasphemy, for men to think and speak of/'taking hold of God;" but it is neither, for Jehovah himself Evidently taught Isaiah thus to think and thus to speak ; and he charges all Israel with the sin of not calling upon God's name, of not stirring up themselves to " take hold of God." By this mode of speech we are taught with what holy boldness, fervour and importunity we should call upon God's name, and with what confidence we should ask, plead, expect at the throne of grace.
We cannot take hold of God as Jacob did at the brook Jabbok. "God," who was afterwards "manifest in the flesh," even Jesus, before his incarnation, appeared to Jacob there in a tangible, bodily form, and Jacob took hold of him with his hands and wrestled with him till the break of day; he would not and did not let him go till he received the blessing he desired. We cannot thus take hold of God with our hands ; for "God manifest in the flesh" does not appear to us even in the body in which he bore our sins upon the tree; but we may grasp him in thought, in affection, and by penitence, and faith and supplication obtain the blessing which Jacob received. It was not Jacob's bodily strength which held the man that wrestled with him and that obtained the blessing from him. The Being who by a touch put Jacob's thigh "out of joint, as he wrestled with him," could easily have deprived Jacob of life. It was not on account of Jacob's great bodily strength that the man said, "Let me go, for the day breaketh;" but it was Jacob's penitence and faith and supplications which held him and prevailed over him. To this fact Hosea plainly alludes in these words: "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God; yea, he had power over the angel and prevailed; lie wept, and made supplications unto him; he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us; even the Lord God of Hosts, the Lord is his memorial. Therefore turn thou to thy God, keep mercy and judgment and wait on thy God continually." The tears and supplications of Jacob evidently took hold of God and prevailed with him; and in like manner we may take hold of God and secure his blessing. Tears of godly sorrow for sin, and earnest, believing supplications for mercy, will ever take hold of the all-compassionate Jehovah.
To take hold of God we must take hold of his covenant. The covenant of grace is revealed to us in the gospel, and its blessings are offered to all who will comply with its terms. In this covenant God requires us to part with all sin, to come out from among the ungodly, to devote ourselves body and soul to his service, to remain for ever stedfast in our allegiance to him, and then he promises to give us a new heart aud a new spirit, to write his laws upon our hearts aud minds, to be merciful to our unrighteousness, and our sins and our iniquities to remember no more, to be to us a God and that we shall be to him a people. This covenant we take hold of when we comprehend it, approve of it, believe in it, accept it, and determine, by the help of God, to live according to the terms thereof. We must plead this covenant when we pray to Jehovah or we cannot take hold of him.
To take hold of God we must take hold of his strength as well as his covenant. In 1 Cor. i., Christ crucified is termed the power of God and the wisdom of God: "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God" (i. 23, 24). Those who reject a crucified Christ cannot even come near to God; so that they can never take hold of his strength; for Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me." We take hold of God's strength when, with a penitent heart and a believing mind^we take hold of Jesus as our only and all-sufficient Saviour; and when we plead with God for all we need, for all he has promised, in Christ's name, and for Christ's sake. When we thus come to the throne of grace we take hold of God's strength and prevail with him. We secure, on our behalf, all the wisdom, the power, and the resources of the Godhead. He cannot deny us anything Ave ask for agreeably to his will, when we come in Jesu's name. It is, then, morally impossible for God to refuse our requests; for be caunot deny himself: "God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible lor God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who' have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high-priest for ever after the order of Melcbisedec."
In all real prayer, therefore, there is something more than merely calling upon God's name ; there is a taking hold of God. In our prayers we must never stop short of this; for if we do we certainly ask amiss, and call upon God's name in vain. Good Matthew Henry says, "To pray is to lake hold of God, by faith to take hold of the promises and the declarations God has made of his good-will to us, and to plead them with him; to take hold of him as one who is about to depart from us, earnestly begging him not to leave us; or of one that has departed, soliciting his return; to take hold of him, as he that wrestles takes hold of him he wrestles with; for the seed of Jacob wrestle with him, and so prevail." Taking hold of the covenant with one hand, and of Christ with the other, we must plead with God till we gain the full assurance in our own minds, that God will, and does, grant unto us the blessings we need, and which he has promised to all who come to him through Jesus Christ. We, moreover, can soon tell when we take hold of God; for then anxiety, fear and sorrow, at once give place to tranquility, confidence and joy. We can as much feel when we have hold of God as a wrestler can feel that he has hold of the man he wrestles with; or as the man ready to drowu in the water feels that he has hold of a bough, a rope, or a plank, when he has grasped such a means of saving himself from a watery grave. When a man fled into Solomon's temple and took hold of the horns of the altar, he felt the substance in his hands; and when we take hold of God we feel him in our hearts, and are instantly filled "with all joy and peace in believing," and are made to abound in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost." Such, then, is what we conceive is meant by taking hold of God; and we never pray aright unless wc take firm hold of God's covenant—firm hold of his Son, and plead these till Cod reveals himself unto us, and grants us our requests. "But when we take hold on God, it is as the boatman with his hook takes hold on the shore, as if he would pull the shore to him, but really it is to pull himself to the shoro; so we pray, not to bring God to our minds, but to bring ourselves to his."
"To take hold of God" we must stir up ourselves. We must awake from our slumbers, arouse from our lethargy, shake off our indifferency, and summon all our energies to the work, if we would succeed. We must awake our thinking powers; we must stir up our affections; and with a resolute determined will "strive to take hold of God." The whole mind must be put in vigorous motion or wo cannot have "strength with God and prevail." While wc think but little of God and the value of those blessings he imparts; wrhilc our affections are cold, and more fixed upon tho world than they are upon the things of God; while our determinations to gain much of God and spiritual things are weak and wavering; while we mind earthly things more than we do heavenly things, "the things which belong to our peace," God will not be taken hold of by us. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." Until all this be done we in vain go to God in the expectation of having power over him. Until all this be done we are not in a fit state to hold communion with God; nor are we in a fit state to receive the rich blessings of his grace. For God to bless us while we "are at ease in Zion," "settled upon our lees," indifferent to our own best interests and the best interests of the Church and the world, would be like casting pearls before swine, or giving that which is holy unto the dogs. Until we arouse ourselves, and both see and feel the need of taking hold of God, we cannot place a proper value upon his presence, nor rightly prize his favours.
Stir up yourselves to take hold of God by a more diligent and prayerful use of the Holy Scriptures. "The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and- spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discemer of the thoughts and of the intents of the heart." This divine word reveals the glories of the Godhead. It unfolds to our view the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. It contains the "exceeding great and precious promises" whereby we may "be partakers of the divine nature." It shows us our need of God and of the blessings which he has promised to them that love him. It points out the way by which we are to gain all we need to make us wise and holy, useful and happy. And just in proportion to our candid, diligent and prayerful study of the Bible, will be our desires for God, and our anxiety to gain hi3 favour which is life, and his lovingkindness which is better than life. The diligent and prayerful student of the Bible is the man that stirs up himself to take hold of God. By the truth he clearly apprehends the value of God's grace—his desires for God arc enkindled—his soul is impelled to follow hard after God—his determinations to take hold of God become so strong and decided that he cannot rest until he grasps the Infinite, and feels that "the Eternal God is his refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." The soul of the diligent and devotional student of the Bible " thirsteth for God, for the living God," yea, his "heart and his flesh crieth out for the living God." Pay more attention to God's Word or you will never be able to say, " As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God;" and never till you thus pant after God will you be able to take hold of him.
If we would take hold of God we must stir up ourselves by more private devotion. We must exercise ourselves more unto godliness in the closet. Self-examination and secret prayer will reveal our great deficiencies. When we commune little with our own hearts and with our God in secret, we do not feel our need; therefore do not stir up ourselves to take hold of God that he may " supply all our need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." But when we, in the retirement of the closet, search our own hearts, and cry to God, saying, "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"—then we discover our real state, and have such distressing views of our sinfulness, our barrenness, our misery, and our danger, that we are in agony to obtain the pardoning, fructifying, satisfying and delivering mercy of God—then we cannot rest till we take hold of God and prevail.
If we would take hold of God, we must stir up ourselves and be more diligent in the use of the public and social means of grace. How can we expect God to manifest himself unto us, to come unto us and make his abode with us, if we seldom attend the social means of grace, and are frequently absent from " the place where his honour dwelleth?" Christ has promised to meet us "wherever two or three are gathered together in" his "name." Jehovah says, "In all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee." But how can we expect to take hold of God if we forsake "the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is?" Then, certainly, we are not in the place where Christ has promised to meet lis. Or if we neglect the public worship of God, saying, in effect, "It is vain to serve God," we are not where God has promised to come unto his people and bless them: therefore it is not likely that we can take hold of God. The Holy Spirit quickens men by his word, by his ordinances, by the prayers and conversations of his people. We are altogether out of the way of being stirred up " to take hold of God" when we neglect the public and social means of grace. The means of grace, when rightly used, will ever have a tendency to quicken us in our pursuit of God and godliness. Stir up yourselves to attend the means of grace, and then there will be some probability of your being stirred up to take hold of God; but if you will frequently neglect these means, know of a surety that God will forsake you utterly and cast you off for ever.
If we would "take hold of God," we must stir up ourselves and "lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us." Worldly cares and besetting sins are weights too heavy for the soul to bear in its wrestlings with God; and ever will prevent us from prevailing with him. Jacob, before he wrestled with the angel and prevailed, prepared and sent forth a princely present to his brother Esau, whom he had deeply injured by depriving him of his birthright in his extremity, and by fraud, at his mother's suggestion, robbing Esau of his father's blessing: he, moreover, sent over the brook all that he had: "And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." Then, with tears and supplications, which lasted till the breaking of the day, he wrestled with God and prevailed. He obtained a new nature and a new name. We must go and do likewise. While our hearts are overcharged with the cares of this life—while we indulge some secret sin—or while we refuse to make all the reparation in our power to any we have injured, we cannot " take hold of God." In such circumstances our consciences upbraid us, our affections remain cold, hard and dead to everything good, our thoughts are distracted, our determinations for God will be very weak: and hence, in our efforts to obtain God we shall be as unstable as water, and shall never be able to pray the prayer of faith, which takes hold of God and secures his blessing.
If we would "take hold of God," we must cease to be triflers with religion, and make it our "chief concern"—our great business. We must believe, with all our hearts, that time is nothing—eternity everything. We must be fully persuaded that we have more to do with God than with all besides, not excepting our own families. We must be convinced that God's smile is life—that his frown is death. In a word.