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Sinners should feel it to be a solemn thing to approach God in prayer, and should ever seek to do so in the faith of what is written, “there is God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." 1 Tim. ii. 5.
But while the sinner must approach with reverence and awe, he is not required to do so in terror or despair ; for, to come in the name of Christ implies farther, that while unworthy in ourselves, we are worthy in Christ, to seek the blessings which we need. The very ceremony alluded 10, while fitted to produce reverence, was full of encou. ragement. It represented God dwelling on a mercy-seat. Now that mercy-seat was a figure of bis dwelling in Christ. And while he is contemplated there, bis name is seen to be “the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in mercy.” The worshipper can say, "let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, ihat we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need.” He draws nigh to God in the name of bim with whom he is ever well pleased, and is accepted with him for Christ's sake.
To come in the name of Christ implies, also, that we plead with God by Christ. We name his worthiness be. fore him—that which he possesses ip bimself, and wbicb, as Mediator, has resulted from what he has done. We set forth bis work—that sacrifice which he made of him.. self, and by which he purchased redemption for bis people. We insist upon his promises-80 full, that they meet every extremity of the sinner, and so free, tbat we look for their gracious fulfilment without money and without price. This pleading with God is what is so fully declared by the Apostle Paul, saying, " having, therefore, brethren, bold. ness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, bis flesb; and having an high.priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our bearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Heb. X. 19-22.
In shorty to come to God in the name of Christ, is to plead with him by all the revelation which he has made of himself in Christ, whether of his name, or will, or promises, or glory. It is an appeal to his mercy, that he will Bct towards us as a Redeemer; to bis truth, that he will aceomplish all his promises; to his wisdom, that he will
direct us; to his power, to upbold us; to his glory, that he will magnify bimself in us. Examples of prayer, con. ducted thus, will be found in the history of Moses and Joshua, recorded in Exod. xxxii. 11-14; and Joshua vii. 6-9. These will be found deserving a most careful consideration and close imitation.
5. Prayer includes " the confession of our sins.” When man prays, it is not merely the approach of the creature to the Creator, but of a sinner to a pure and holy God. The recognition of his own state and character before him is, therefore, essential. And hence his approach must be characterized by features altogether peculiar to man as a sinner. He must come with deep humiliation, sensible how far he is removed from God by transgression, and feeling himself to be the prodigal in the far-distant land. He must come with self-condemnation, not excusing bis sins, but freely owping them before God, in all their guilti. ness and aggravation. He must come with self-examina. tion, entering deeply into bis own heart and lite, and spreading out his secret abominations and outward offences before his sight. He must come with deep contrition, for to make confession of sins which are not felt to be hateful 10 God and ruinous to the soul, is hypocrisy. And he must come with hearty desires for the removal of all his sins, for these inust be felt to be a burthen heavier than the soul can bear; and the spirit that is rightly exercised, never can be at rest until tbere is a sense of God's forgiv. ing mercy extended to it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Of this case, an instructive example will be found, in the history of David, recorded in the 51st Psalm.
6. Finally, in prayer, there is "a thankful acknowledgment of God's mercies.' These stand in glorious contrast 10 our sins, and it is the joint contemplation of our sins and God's mercies, that forms the right spirit of prayer. Hence the deepest humility, yet the most assured confidence; the most searching scrutiny ofourselves and our sins with a frank admission of vileness and unworthiness, yet the most adoring views of the mercy of God in Christ, and a grateful recog. pition of all that has been bestowed upon us for his sake; an utter condemnation of our sinful humanity, yet a boly rejoicing in God our Saviour; a distrust of self, propor.. lioned 10 our trust in God; sorrow for sin, united with the joy of salvation; the confession of sins and acknow. ledgment of mercies going hand in hand, mutually
309 strengthening and confirming one another. For as it is the duty of the suppliant to follow out the consession of sin through all the exercises of soul to which it naturally prompts, 80 shoald the acknowledgment of God's mercies be pursued in a diligent study of his character, the adorá tion of his perfections, the observance of his works, and the special recognition of the mercies, temporal and spiri. tual, wbich he has bestowed upon us.
This is the view of prayer given in our Shorter Cate. ehism," the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to bis will, in the name of Christ, with confes sión of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.” It will readily be seen how this definition includes all the parts of prayer usually embraced in more formal and extensive treatises upon it. Generally it has been di. vided into adoration, confession, supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving. It is well, too, to have these different parts of prayer in the mind, as they produce distinctness of thought and language. But they are all embraced, al. though not in this order, in the definition that bas been considered, while it has some peculiar advantages, being very comprehensive while brief and simple, and most explanatory though not formal.
If there is any idea not so fully hrought out in it as might be desired, it is the necessity of the Holy Spirit in prayer. That is understood, but it would have been better had it been expressed. It is only be that can quicken the soul and beget the desires of prayer that can open the mind to just apprehensions of God, its only and great object-that can lead to a right understand. ing of his word, which is the rule of prayer-tbat can enlighten and humble the soul in just discoveries of its own sinfulness--and that can duly impress it by a sense of the divine mercies. It is, therefore, to be regretted, that the Spirit has not been distinctly recognised in the definition. In the Scriptures he is continually treated of as the Spirit of prayer. "I will pour out the Spirit of grace plication, saith God. We are commanded to ibe Holy Ghost.” And the apostle distinctly and fully testifies, “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what should we pray for as we ougbt; but the Spirit it. self maketh intercession for us with groanings which can. not be uttered. And he that searcbeth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh
intercession for the saints, according to the will of God.'' Rom. viii. 26, 27.
II. The obligations of prayer. These are very numerous, but we shall be satisfied, at present, merely to name them.
1. Prayer is natural. It is not more natural for the drowning man to cry for help to those who are at hand to deliver, than for the singer who feels himself perishing in sin to call mightily upon God. Nor will there be a greater difficulty in finding expression in the one case than in the other. The difficulty of prayer, of which so many complain, arises out of the sinner not being sufficiently alive to a sense of his guilt and danger.
2. It is reasonable. It is an exercise accordant with all we know of God, as a being, infinite in power, wisdom, and goodness; and of man, as a weak, erring, sinful and necessitous creature. Shall
, the bungry.cry for bread, or, the man that is athirst for drink? Then let the sinner pray.
3. Prayer is necessary. It is so from the natural connexion between God and man, as the Creator and the creature; more particularly so by reason of their relation as Redeemer and sinner; and there is super-added all the obligation of an express appointment, inasmuch as God has joined together the bestowment of bis blessings, and the supplication of those who need them. “For these things I will be inquired of, saith God, to do it for them.”
4. He has commanded prayer. “ Continue instant in prayer-continue in prayer, and watch in the same with ihanksgiving--pray without ceasing." Whoever acknowledges the authority of God and of his word, must also acknowledge the obligation of prayer.
5. Prayer is profitable. It solemnizes the mind-enlightens the understanding-sanctifies the heart-regulates the temper-governs the life-prepares the man for hea. ven. He who neglects it, therefore, forsakes his own mercies.
6. It has ever been practised by the most holy men. Abraham was a man of prayer. So was Joshua. Read the Psalms, and learn how largely David partook of its spirit. And Jesus himself has left the example of spending entire nights in ibis heavenly exercise, as the nearest approach to God and heaven.
7. Prayer is effectual. The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Moses, prayed, and the Red sea divided its waters, Hezekiel prayed, and fifteen years
were added to bis life. Daniel prayed, and he was favoured with visions of the Lord. Cornelius prayed, and Peter was sent to teach him. The apostles prayed, and the Holy Ghost was given, as bad been promised. This is the messenger that ascends to heaven, and returns laden with blessings. It is the highest privilege man enjoys on earth.
To neglect prayer is to live without God and without hope in the world. It is a decial and a contempt of God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and beaven, and hell. To live in it is to live with God. It is the exact measure of holiness and happiness. It is the key-stone that binds the arch of the devout affections and religious duties ; let it be removed, and the soul falls under the first temptation that crosses it; but let it be maintained with stedfastness, and the greater the weight that is laid upon the soul, the more will it be strengthened and able to bear.
III. Some directions for cultivating the Spirit, and rendering effective the practice of prayer.
As reasonable beings, we need these, and may derive much profit from attending to them.
1. Let there be particular seasons set apart for prayer. The morning and the evening of every day—the return of the Sabbath-the hours of food-these are times that naturally invite the exercise, and they have been sanctioned by the appointments and examples recorded in Scripture. It is necessary to have stated seasons of prayer, else are we in danger of losing the habit. And these seasons once appointed, we should adhere to them with the utmost constancy, at the same time that we should be on our guard against formality in them. 2. We should not confine our prayers to particular sea.
We should seek to be ever in the spirit of prayer. Every event of life should be used as an excitement to it, either provoking gratitude, or leading us to expresions of humiliation. Especially when by any means the mind is disposed to prayer, we should be careful to encourage and gratify it. Satan will tempt at such a time to neglect the impulse of the spirit; but it is a critical season, and should be watched and improved.
3. When we engage in prayer, we should be at pains to have the spirit of prayer produced in the mind. This will be readily effected by previous meditation. Dwell upon the blessings received, the sins committed, the duties to be