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of later times cut off from the high and holy privileges of communion with him, which Abraham and Isaac and Moses had enjoyed? Did St. Paul, or St. Peter, or St. John, come before his throne, with a hope less sure and stedfast; with a confidence in his will to hear them, less ardent and less. persevering, than that of David, or Hezekiah, when they besought him for aid and mercy? Certainly not. The faith and unfading trust in God which the Christian martyrs displayed, were in no respect weakened, because the wonders that bad enchained the attention under the Mosaic economy had ceased from the earth. I am speaking now of times posterior to our Lord's ascension, when the apostles were left without any visible manifestation of God's presence amongst them.
It may here be objected, that although the apostles had no actual appearance of God's glory, to cheer and encourage them in their supplications to him; yet, that the privilege conferred by the Holy Spirit of working miracles, must have been a convincing proof of God's constant providence and care, and must therefore have given them greater confidence in approaching his footstool, than can be felt by those, to whom no such extraordinary powers have been committed. But this very objection proceeds from that lamentable ignorance alluded to in the beginning of this discourse; for it originates in an entire forgetfulness, that, although the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are withheld, yet his ordinary graces are still shed upon the beart, and are as powerful to impart confidence and strength to the sincere believer, as if they had enabled him to give sight to the blind and speech to the dumb. In this view then there is the same source of strength and support, of boldness and perseverance, for the Christian to draw from now, as there was in the day of the first preachers of our holy faith. The whole tenour also of the New Testament, clearly shews that God exercises a superintending care over his creatures; not only over nations and large communities of men, but over individuals also. To this our Saviour pointedly alludes, when he tells his followers, that even the hairs of their head are numbered. Every good gift besides and every perfect gift, every thing which as God's servants we can desire, we are taught to look for from God's hand. The question then naturally arises, will God give us these blessings by his own fixed and predetermined decree, or withhold them from us by a decision equally unalterable, without regard to any supplications which we can make before him? Does he determine to give or to refuse, and never relax from his inexorable resolution, however earnestly his poor and penitent creatures may beseech his
mercy? Or does he require us to pray to bim for his bounty? Is he willing to listen to supplications for heavenly gifts, when made in the sincere and anxious desire to obtain grace and help from above? Does he wait to be asked, before he sends the blessing? The gospel, my brethren, in all its parts encourages us to come to him, in the full assurance of faith, and to make kuown to him all our wants and infirmities, in the firm persuasion that he is always more ready to hear than we to pray.
It is difficult almost, amidst such a multitude of testimonies as the Scriptures afford to this point, to make a selection; one short sentence however of our blessed Lord, will be amply sufficient to establish the truth of our assertion: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
It appears, then, to be the uniform language of Scripture, that we are to seek God's blessings in prayer; that we are to come to him with a penitent spirit in all our troubles, and implore his help for the relief of all our necessities. But whilst many perhaps, will acknowledge the truth of this principle, few comparatively speaking, derive that comfort and encouragement from their devotions, which we are well assured never fail, sooner or later, to follow the outpouring of our souls to God. And the clear reason of this is, because we do not pray aright, because we understand neither the nature nor the efficacy of prayer. But it is of the most momentous importance for every
Christian to have correct views and conceptions of this great and solemn duty; momentous to his own soul's peace and comfort here, and to its eternal salvation hereafter. Let us, then, my brethren, beg God's blessing upon our enquiries, whilst we endeavour, in dependence on him, to explain the nature, and set forth the efficacy of Christian prayer.
One great source of failure in prayer, arises from our anxiety being chiefly directed to objects, in which God bears little sympathy with our sor
Our thoughts are, in general, so much engrossed by the things of this life, that we do, in consequence, suffer them to mingle too deeply with our supplications to heaven. It may be indeed, that we pray for grace and strength, but our petitions for these blessings are frequently but lukewarm and indifferent, when compared with the zeal and fervour with which we implore our Maker, to remove our worldly troubles, or to send us an increase of prosperity. Now when our hearts are so far influenced by the world, that its uncertain and doubtful advantages are made the subject of our most frequent and most earnest requests to God; we cannot in reason hope that he will listen to supplications, which are offensive in his sight; nor, if our prayers are also put up for spiritual gifts, can we expect to receive the grace
for which we ask, whilst that which is earthly, still holds so large a place in our affections. Our blessed Lord knew what was in man; and foresaw clearly how perilously he would misuse this holy privilege of prayer, by profaning it to the furtherance of his own carnal wishes and inclinations. In his sermon on the mount, he has given us the most clear and positive injunctions against this anxiety for worldly good. He has told us in what spirit our petitions should be offered, if we desire them to be listened to in heaven. “Take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed ? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Let us then, bear continually in mind, my brethren, that one most essential quality of prayer is, that such things must be asked as are pleasing to God; such things, that is, as he himself bath declared to be necessary to our everlasting salvation. We must pray therefore zealously and de