Spiritual Meaning of
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THE FRIEND VISITED AT MIDNIGHT.
And he said to them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, 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? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you. I say to you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his need he will rise and give him as many as he needs. And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
By the first friend, here mentioned, is to be understood the Almighty and Merciful father of the universe, as to the good of His love, thus distinguished from the second friend spoken of, who is said to be in his journey, and who, therefore, represents the same Almighty Father, as to the truth of His wisdom, since journeying is always applied to truth, inasmuch as every man under the leading of truth, is regarded as a traveller, or sojourner, truth being the way, or the road, which conducts man to heavenly good.
Midnight denotes a state of ignorance, which precedes the knowledge of the eternal truth, and in which the first desire is kindled to attain the knowledge of that truth. For man is naturally born in ignorance, but still with the faculty from God of receiving and comprehending the eternal truth. Whenever, therefore, the affection for this truth is excited, and begins to operate in his mind from a genuine desire of attaining the truth, he is then said to go to his heavenly Friend at midnight.
It is said that he supplicates his friend to lend him three loaves. By the three loaves are to be understood all the principles of heavenly food and nourishment, necessary for the formation and support of heavenly life, which the natural man now begins to feel the want of; and by lending these three loaves is to be understood, that under the first reception of the divine love and wisdom, which are the food and nourishment here spoken of, these heavenly principles are regarded as borrowed gifts, because not yet fully incorporated into the life. For such is the nature of the first reception, for instance, of heavenly knowledge, that like the axe of the son of the prophet (2 Kings 6:5), which is the exact figure and representative of such knowledge, it is said to be borrowed, this being the case with all truth and its knowledge, until a man sees it by a clear light in his own mind to be truth. For every man, at first, receives truth on the authority of others, and confirms it by that authority; but, in proportion as he forms his life in agreement with it, he then sees the truth by its own radiant Sight, and thus confirms it in his mind by its own divine authority, in which case the truth and its knowledge are no longer to be regarded as a loan, or borrowed, but as his own property, because incorporated into his life's love.
We have already seen, what is to be understood by the second friend, when he is said to be in his journey. We have now to consider what is meant by this second friend coming to the man who makes the supplication.
By the second friend then, being understood the Almighty Father of the universe, under the character of His Divine Truth; in this character He makes His first approach to man, in order to gain admission into his heart and life, and thus to dwell with him eternally, on which occasion He is here said to come. Thus God makes his first approach to man by and in His Holy Word, because His Holy Word is the fullness of His Divine Truth, united with His Divine Good; and in proportion as man admits this Holy Word into his understanding, and forms it into his life, in the same proportion God is said to come to him, being for ever present and one with His Holy Word, and this in such a manner, that whoever receives His Holy Word receives Him, agreeably to those words of Jesus Christ to His disciples, He that receives you receives Me, and He that receives Me receives Him that sent Me (Matt. 10:40).
But it is added, I have nothing to set before him. These words were intended to describe the effect of the reception of the Eternal Truth, in teaching man that he has nothing of his own by which he can satisfy its requirement; thus teaching, further, that, of himself, he has no love either to God or towards men, such love being that which the Eternal Truth requires, and with which alone it can be satisfied. It is to be understood, therefore, that the Eternal Truth produces a double effect in the mind of him who admits it, namely, first, by teaching him his own wants, and that, in himself, there is nothing either of goodness or of truth which can render him acceptable to his Heavenly Father; and, secondly, by directing him to that Heavenly Father as the only divine source from which he can hope to receive those heavenly and saving principles.
It follows next in the parable, that He from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you. These expressions, which seem to indicate an unwillingness or reluctance, on the part of the Almighty, to grant the supplication here presented to Him, are spoken in regard to the appearances, as they arise in the mind of the natural man, when he is first awakened by the reception of the Divine Truth, to discover what he is, in himself, and how, naturally, he has nothing in himself, either of saving good or saving truth. For, in this case, he is led to imagine that his needs are troublesome to the Divine Being; he fancies, too, that the door of communication is so shut between him and his Heavenly Father, that no supplication on his part can open it; and, lastly, he conceives that the Almighty is so blessed in Himself, and in His own Heaven, as to be insensible to the wants of His children on earth, and thus to be unmoved by their entreaties.
The expression, He from within, as applied to our Heavenly Father, was designed to teach this very important lesson, that our Heavenly Father, has His abode within all other things, or creatures, thus, that he is the inmost principle of all life, consequently, the inmost good, the inmost truth, and the inmost power, according to which idea He is called, in the Sacred Scriptures, the Highest, or Most High, because what is high, in its spiritual sense and interpretation, means what is within, and, consequently, what is highest means what is inmost.
It is plain that the words, trouble me not, are spoken according to appearance only; because it is not really true, in any one instance, that God ever thinks it a trouble to listen to the entreaties of His children: on the contrary, such is His divine love towards all His creatures, that nothing gives Him greater joy than to hear their supplications, and grant all their petitions. The natural man, however, judging from the state of his own mind, cannot possibly have any apprehension of this disposition of his God, and, therefore, he concludes that his needs give trouble to his Heavenly Father, in like manner as repeated need is apt to give trouble to men here below.
With regard to the door which is here mentioned, and which is said, on this occasion, to be shut, we may observe, that there are in every human mind what may properly be called two doors, because a door, properly considered, is only a medium of communication. Thus, there is one door in every human mind which opens towards God and Heaven, because in every human mind there is a faculty of communication with God and Heaven. Again, there is another door which opens towards the kingdom of darkness, because in every human mind there is also a faculty of communication with that kingdom. By the door, therefore, in the present instance, being shut, is to be understood, that the natural man, on his first application to his Heavenly Father for divine grace and mercy, is not sensible of the communication being open, nor can he be made sensible of it, until, by repeated application, the door is opened, and he is thus led out of appearance into reality; which reality teaches that the door is never shut, only so far as man shuts it, either by his unwillingness to have it opened, or by his ignorance as to the manner of opening it. That a door is thus to be understood according to a spiritual idea, is evident from Jesus Christ calling himself the Door, by which is manifest, that He meant to describe Himself, as to His Divine Humanity, as the grand medium of communication between man and the Supreme Divinity.
The expression, My children are with me in bed, has relation to the repose of the angelic kingdom, and of all those who are honoured by the sacred appellation of God's children. Thus it is intended to express the appearance that such repose would be disturbed by the need of supplication.
It is added, further, I cannot rise and give you. The reason why it is here said, I cannot rise, when it might have been sufficient to say, I cannot give you is, that rising, in this case, as applied to the Almighty, is intended to express the elevation of Him, and of the principles of His life, in the human mind, since rising can never be predicted of the Almighty in any other sense than this. For God, so far as concerns himself alone, can never be said either to ascend or descend, and, therefore, whenever, either ascent or descent is applied to Him, the term must of necessity be intended to express only the state of His reception in the minds of His people. Thus, He is said to ascend, when He is exalted in the affections and thoughts of men as the Supreme Good and the Supreme Truth, as, on the other hand, He is said to descend and be degraded, when other things are exalted above Himself in the hearts and understandings of His creatures. This, therefore, is the reason why it is said, I cannot rise and give you, since God, there is every cause to believe, cannot give, or communicate His favours, graces, and blessings, until He arises; in other words, until he is exalted in the human mind as the Supreme Good and Supreme Truth. It is accordingly written, in the 68th Psalm, Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered, to instruct us, in like manner, that God cannot disperse the evils of man's heart, or the spirits of darkness connected with those evils, which are man's only real enemies, until He is suffered to arise in the power of His divine love and wisdom, and thus to be exalted as man's best Friend, Benefactor, and Protector. The expression, therefore, is again repeated twice in the following verse, where it is said, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his Friend, yet because of his need he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
God, as a Friend, is disposed to communicate to mankind all his most precious gifts of love, wisdom, peace, protection, and blessedness, and out of His divine love is ever most eager and desirous to impart these gifts even to the most sinful of His creatures. But this desire on the part of God is not, of itself alone, sufficient for the communication and reception of those gifts, since before they can be communicated and received, it is necessary that man, on his part, should be desirous to receive them, and from that desire, should apply to the Divine Giver to impart them. For without such a reciprocal desire on man's part, the gifts, if bestowed, would not be blessings, because they would not be acknowledged humbly and gratefully to be the bounty of a divine, unmerited mercy, and until man is in the disposition to make this acknowledgement, he would only pervert the most heavenly gifts to his misery and destruction, by separating them from their Divine Giver. For such is the nature of every good which proceeds from God, that it is instantly turned into an evil in that defiled mind, which is not disposed willingly and cheerfully, and thankfully to confess its Divine Source, and to rejoice in such confession. God accordingly waits for man's need before He dispenses His gifts, well aware that if there be no need arising from a humble and penitent desire in the heart of the supplicant, the gift, if dispensed, would be perverted and abused, and thus rendered a mischief instead of a blessing. It is, therefore, written of the wicked, that The things which should have been for their wealth, are to them an occasion of falling.
The parable continues, He will rise and give him as many as he needs. When man unites his desire with the desire of God, he then finds, not only that all things are possible for him, but that he comes into possession of universal property, so as to be enabled to say, with his Redeemer, according to his measure, Father, all mine are Yours, and Yours are mine. For such is the nature of the Divine Mercy, that, being willing to communicate to others all that it has, it waits only for the same will to be excited in others, that they may be as much disposed to receive as the Almighty is to give; in which case man comes into the possession of every possible good, and finds those words of his Saviour verified, It is enough for the disciple to be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord. By as many as he needs, therefore, is to be understood, enough, or all-sufficiency, agreeably to the divine promise, here it is written, He will fulfil [or, fillfull,] the desire of them that fear Him; and, again, He that overcomes shall inherit all things. And thus is verified what is written in the verse which presently follows this parable, Every one that asks re-ceiveth: and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
The general instruction intended to be taught in this parable is, that the Almighty does not dispense His gifts according to the measure of His mercy only, but according to that of the desire of His children to receive His gifts, since it is impossible they can be received to any saving purpose without such a desire. We are, therefore, further instructed, that it is the will and intention of the Almighty first to beget and excite in his children the desire of an Eternal Good, because that desire is from Himself, and in whatsoever mind it is truly operative, it never fails, sooner or later, to secure the desired good, because God Himself is in it, and wherever God is, there must of necessity be also all possible good of love, of wisdom, of power, protection, and blessedness. Thus need on the part of man, being derived from an infinite mercy on the part of God, and connecting itself with that mercy, is sure to introduce the devout supplicant to the possession of all that he needs, to the removal of all his wants, and to the satisfying of every desire of bliss imparted to him by his Heavenly Father.