The Prayer of Moses
James Smith, 1865
"Return, O Lord! How long will it be?" Psalm 90:13
So sighed Moses, the man of God, when Israel was wandering in the desert, when death was sweeping away the rebellious generation which came out of Egypt, from the earth; and when God, to a great extent, kept at a distance from them.
And so may we sigh and pray, under our present depressing, discouraging circumstances, as the visible church of Christ. God has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud: and he has covered himself with a cloud, so that our prayers will not pass through. We sigh and cry — but he seems to shut out our prayer; we mourn his absence — but he does not favor us with his presence as we desire and wish to enjoy it. The prayer of Moses is ours; yes, beloved, we are crying out, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?"
What is the CAUSE of this exclamation?Why do we thus pray?
Because we are not favored with those sweet, soul-melting joys which we used to enjoy. One branch of God's kingdom was, "joy in the Holy Spirit." One characteristic of the believer was, that he "rejoiced in Christ Jesus." The disciples "were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Once, in our experience, his teachings dropped as the rain, and his communications distilled as the dew. We sat under his shadow with delight, and his fruit was sweet unto our taste. But where are those joys now? When do we enjoy such precious seasons?
Where are the people that are in such a case? Alas, generally speaking, we are cold, hard, lifeless, and unspiritual; therefore, we may well cry, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?"
Again, the sanctifying influences of the blessed
Spirit do not attend the Word as they once did. Time was, when the
preacher could say to his people, "We all with open face, beholding as in a
mirror the glory of the Lord — are being changed into the same image,
from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." By the gospel
ordinances, the Lord sanctified his people:
the covetous became liberal;
the proud became humble;
the idle became industrious;
the self-indulgent learned to practice self-denial;
the earthly-minded became spiritual;
a gradual, progressive — but marked change took place in them!
But now, professors remain very much what they were, which makes us exclaim, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?"
Once more, the saving operations of the quickening Spirit are withheld. Once sinners were converted by thousands: great multitudes both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. The hand of the Lord was with his servants, and multitudes were turned unto the Lord. The Lord added to the church daily, such as should be saved. The gospel was accompanied with an invincible power, and the hearers were born again by the word of truth. The gospel came not in word only — but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Now how few are really converted to God; and even in the converted — how slight the work appears. Once the soul was like softened wax, and the image of Christ was deeply impressed upon it; now it is rather like drawing paper, and the likeness of Jesus is only seen drawn in faint outline upon it. Well, therefore, may we cry, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?"
And we do so, because we can find no substitute for the divine presence. We have learning, eloquence, argument, emotional appeals, earnest entreaties, and loving tenderness — but all this will not do! Things remain just as they were! We can be satisfied with nothing less than the presence of God. We value the servants — but we want the Master. We prize the instruments — but we long for the divine Agent. We have the wells — but we want the living, the life-giving water. And all our efforts will decay to nothing — except the Lord returns in power.
In many places, our churches decrease, our congregations
dwindle, our pastors are dispirited, and dull discontent pervades all the
true people of God. These things make us cry, and cry with painful
earnestness, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?"
But what ANSWER may we suppose that the Lord will give to many of us?
Perhaps he may say that he will not return as we desire — until we separate from the world as he has bidden us. His word is, "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." But, like Ephraim of old, we have mixed ourselves among the people. Politics, business, carnal associations, and worldly thinking have led us astray; so that there is but very little difference between the professing people of God — and those who make no profession. He requires us to stand out in bold relief from the world — to be distinct and distinguishable — to be like a city set upon a hill, which cannot be hidden. While worldly professors have balls, dances, concerts, etc. — we shall be left to cry, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?"
Again, we may not expect him to return — until we realize the end of our salvation. We are called with a Heavenly calling. We are called to glory and virtue. Our calling is to publish and preserve God's truth — to represent and set forth the true nature of Christ's holy religion — to endeavor to pluck sinners as brands from the burning, and lead them on to glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life.
We are saved: to live for God — to live like Jesus — to aim at the honor of God in everything we do — to live as saints, or unearthly persons, who are born from above, buried with Christ, risen with Christ, ascended with Christ, and identified with Christ!
We are to act like the temples of the Holy Spirit — the companions of God the Father, and of his Son Jesus Christ, with whom we profess to live in close, constant, and sensible fellowship.
We are to make God's glory the one great end of our existence, so that, whether we think or speak, rest or work, worship or visit, eat or drink, or whatever we do — we do all to the glory of God.
We may not expect the Lord to return — until we stir up ourselves to take hold upon him. Like Jacob we must go out into the plain, and there wrestle with God. Like Elijah — we must go to the top of Carmel, and there plead until we prevail. Like Hezekiah we must turn our faces to the wall, and pray until God yields to us. Like the disciples at Emmaus we must constrain him to turn in and abide with us.
Brethren, let us remember, that the energetic prayer of the righteous man avails much; that God will attend to his own elect when they cry day and night unto him — though he may seem to hold out long. Let us, therefore, stir up ourselves to take hold on him, and give him no rest until he bows the Heavens and comes down, and works wonders in our midst!
Do we feel this to be our state? Is God at a distance from us? Are the ordinances comparatively barren? Is the gospel almost without effect? Are our churches and ministers at a loss to know what to do? Do we pant and long for a change? Is this the rooted, reigning, abiding desire of our souls? Can we be satisfied with no less? Are we becoming impatient and passionately crying out, "Return, O Lord! How long will it be?" Or can we be still, silent, and comparatively indifferent under such a state of things?
Brethren, the Spirit of God is grieved — and we have grieved him!
Our Heavenly Father's heart is wounded — and we have wounded it!
Our adorable Savior has been crucified afresh — and we have crucified him!
These things call for deep thought, for bitter tears, for daily repentance, for fervent prayers, for frank confession, for earnest pleadings, and for immediate reformation!
Do we feel upon this subject — as we ought to feel? Do you? Do we act under the circumstances — as we ought to act? Do you? God refuses to be considered the author or the cause of these things, therefore he demands of us, "Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Are these his doings? Do not my words do good unto him that walks uprightly?" Can we have walked uprightly, then? Impossible, or God would not withhold his presence from us! Hear his own word, "The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will be withheld from them that walk uprightly!"