"I gave thee a king in mine anger."

HOSEA xiii. 11.

"Ye know not what ye ask."

MATTHEW xx. 22.

PSALM lxxviii. 27-31.

That God sometimes suffers men to destroy themselves, giving them

their own way, although He knows it is ruinous, and even putting into

their hands the scorpion they have mistaken for a fish, is an

indubitable and
alarming fact.

Perhaps no form of ruin covers a man with such shame or sinks him to

such hopelessness as when he finds that what he has persistently

clamoured for and refused to be content without, has proved the

bitterest and most disastrous element in his life. This particular

form of ruin is nowhere described with more careful, and significant

detail than in the narrative of Israel's determination to have a king

over them like other nations. Samuel, forseeing the evils which would

result from their choice, remonstrated with them and reminded them of

their past success, and pointed out the advantageous elements in

their present condition. But there is a point at which desire becomes

deaf and blind, and the evil of it can be recognised only after it is

gratified. God therefore gave them a king in His anger."

The truth, then, which is embodied in this incident, and which is

liable to reappear in the experience of any individual, is this, that

sometimes God yields to importunity, and grants to men what He knows

will be no blessing to them. "It is a thing," says South, "partly

worth our wonder, partly our compassion, that what the greatest part

of men most passionately desire, that they are generally most unfit

for; so that at a distance they court that as an enjoyment, which

upon experience they find a plague and a great calamity." It is

astonishing how many things we desire for the same reason as the

Israelites sought a king, merely that we may have what other people

have. We may not definitely covet our neighbour's house or his wife

or his position or anything that is his; but deep within us remains

the scarcely-conscious conviction that we have not all we might and

ought to have until our condition more resembles his. We take our

ideas of happiness from what we see in other people, and have little

originality to devise any special and more appropriate enjoyment or

success. Fashion or tradition or the necessity of one class in

society has promoted certain possessions and conditions to the rank

of extremely desirable or even necessary elements of happiness, and

forthwith we desire them, without duly considering our own

individuality and what it is that must always constitute happiness

for us, or what it is that fits us for present usefulness. Health,

position, fame, a certain settlement in life, income, marriage; such

things are eagerly sought by thousands, and they are sought without

sufficient discrimination, or at any rate without a well-informed

weighing of consequences. We refuse, too, to see that already without

those things our condition has much advantage, and that we are

actually happy. We may be dimly conscious that our tastes are not

precisely those of other men, and that if the ordinary ways of

society are the best men can devise for spending life satisfactorily,

these are scarcely the ways that will suit us. Yet, like petted

children, we continue persistently to cry for the thing we have not.

Sometimes it is a mere question of waiting. The thing we sigh for

will come in time, but not yet. To wait is the test of many persons;

and if they are impatient, they fail in the one point that determines

the whole. Many young persons seem to think life will all be gone

before they taste any of its sweets. They must have everything at

once, and cannot postpone any of its enjoyments or advantages. No

quality is more fatal to success and lasting happiness than


This being a common attitude of mind towards fancied blessings, how

does God deal with it? For a long time He may in compassion withhold

the fatal gift. He may in pity disregard our petulant clamour. And He

may in many ways bring home to our minds that the thing we crave is

in several respects unsuitable. We may become conscious under His

discipline that without it we are less entangled with the world and

with temptation; that we can live more holily and more freely as we

are, and that to quench the desire we have would be to choose the

better part. God may make it plain to us that it is childish to look

upon this one thing as the supreme and only good. Providential

obstacles are thrown in our way, difficulties amounting almost to

impossibilities absolutely prevent us for a while from attaining our

object, and give us time to collect ourselves and take thought. And

not only are we prevented from attaining this one object, but in

other respects our life is enriched and gladdened, so that we might

be expected to be content. If we cannot have a king like other

nations, we have the best of Judges in abundance. And experience of

this kind will convince the subject of it that a Providence shapes

our ends, even although the lesson it teaches may remain unlearnt.

For man's will is never forced: and therefore if we continue to pin

our happiness to this one object, and refuse to find satisfaction and

fruit in life without it, God gives in anger what we have resolved to

obtain. He gives it in its bare earthly form, so that as soon as we

receive it our soul sinks in shame. Instead of expanding our nature

and bringing us into a finished and satisfactory condition, and

setting our life in right relations with other men, we find the new

gift to be a curse to us, hampering us, cutting us off in unexpected

ways from our usefulness, thwarting and blighting our life round its

whole circumference.

For a man is never very long in discovering the mischief he has done

by setting his own wisdom above God's, by underrating God's goodness

and overriding God's will. When Samuel remonstrated with Israel and

warned them that their king would tyrannise over them, all the answer

he got was: "Nay, but we will have a king to rule over us." But, not

many days after, they came to Samuel with a very different petition:

"Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not; for we

have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king." So it is

always; we speedily recognise the difference between God's wisdom and

our own. What seemed neglect on His part is now seen to be care, and

what we murmured at as niggardliness and needless harshness we now

admire as tenderness. Those at least are our second and wiser

thoughts, even although at first we may be tempted with Manoah when

he saw his son blind and fettered in the Philistine dungeon, to


What thing good

Pray'd for, but often proves our woe, our bane?

I prayed for children and thought barrenness

In wedlock a reproach;

I gain'd a son And such a son

as all men hail'd me happy.

Who would be now a father in my stead?

Oh, wherefore did God grant me my request,

And as a blessing with such pomp adorn'd

Why are His gifts desirable, to tempt

Our earnest prayers, then giv'n with solemn hand

As graces, draw a scorpion's tail behind?

Such, I say, may be our first thoughts; but when the first bitterness

and bewilderment of disappointment are over, when reason and right

feeling begin to dominate, we own that the whole history of our

prayer and its answer has been most humiliating to us, indeed, but

most honouring to God. We see as never before how accurately our

character has been understood, how patiently our evil propensities

have been resisted, how truly our life has been guided towards the

highest ends.

The obvious lessons are:-

1. Be discreet in your importunity. Two parables are devoted to the

inculcation of importunity. And it is a duty to which our own

intolerable cravings drive us. But there is an importunity which

offends God. There is a spiritual instinct which warns us when we are

transgressing the bounds of propriety; a perception whereby Paul

discerned, when he had prayed thrice for the removal of the thorn in

his flesh, that it would not be removed. There are things, about

which a heavenly-minded person feels it to be unbecoming to be

over-solicitous; and there are things regarding which it is somehow

borne in upon us that we are not to attain them. There are natural

disabilities, physical or mental or social weaknesses and

embarrassments, regarding which we sometimes cannot but cry out to

God for relief, and yet as we cry we feel that they will not be

removed, and that we must learn to bear the burden cheerfully.

2. On the other hand, we must not be false in prayer. We must utter

to God our real desires in their actual intensity; while at the same

time we must learn to moderate desires which we see to be unpleasing

to God. We must learn to say with truth:

Not what we wish but what we want

Thy favouring grace supply;

The good unasked, in mercy grant,

The ill, though asked, deny.

Learn why God does not make the coveted blessing accessible to you,

and you will learn to pray freely and wisely. Try to discover whether

there is not some peculiar advantage attaching to your present

state--some more wholesome example you can furnish, some more helpful

attitude towards others; some healthier exercise of the manlier

graces of Christianity, which could not be maintained were your

request granted.

3. If your life is marred by the gift you have wrung by your

importunity from a reluctant God, be wise and humble in your dealing

with that gift. If you have suddenly and painfully learned that in

the ordinary-looking circumstances of your life God is touching you

at every point, and if you clearly see that in giving you the fruit

of your desires He is punishing you, there is one only way by which

you can advance to a favourable settlement, and that is by a real

submission to God. Perhaps in no circumstances is a man more tempted

to break with God. At first he cannot reconcile himself to the idea

that ruin should be the result of prayer, and he is inclined to say,

If this be the result of waiting on God, the better course is to

refuse His guidance. In his heart he knows he is wrong, but there is

an appearance of justice in what he says, and it is so painful to

have the heart broken, to admit we have been foolish and wrong, and

humbly to beseech God to repair the disasters our own self-will has