Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the shame, and is sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Self-diffidence and humility, watchfulness and prayer, are the marks and evidences of true personal piety. Happy is the man who can enter into the spirit, and offer up with faith and fervency the requests, of the Psalmist :- “ Who can understand his errors ? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer !"

SERMON XIV.

THE NECESSITY AND EFFICACY OF PRAYER.

BY STEPHEN MORELL.

JAMES v. 16.--The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man

availeth much.

It must be admitted, and will be seriously felt by all Christians, that the character of the present age, and the features of the times, bear an aspect of deep solemnity, while they seem to encourage expectations most gratifying to those who have devoutly urged the petition, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

It is right to expect that christian ministers, and all believers in the glorious gospel of the Son of God, will arouse themselves ; it is reasonable to hope that men will begin to feel that “they ought to pray and not to faint.” The very times call for devotion, and we confidently trust will not fail to enkindle the sacred flame in the churches of Britain, and the houses of the faithful. It would be difficult to fix upon any period in the history of our country, in which so remarkable a combination of events as distinguishes the present moment, offered at once so powerful a motive and so cheering an encouragement to call upon the name of the Lord. This is felt, we conclude, by all sincere Christians. A truly scriptural disposition,-an earnest desire for the advancement of the sacred cause of truth,-a longing hope of the approaching accomplishment of many great and precious promises,--and fervent supplications for the coming of the Son of Man in all the glory of his spiritual government,—are dispositions and prayers not confined to one order of Christians, or christian professors in the land; not connected

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

with an affectation of superior devotion, or superior discernment: they are nurtured, they have been long cherished, with all sobriety of mind, and humility of faith in all our churches. But we are anxious to avail ourselves of the signs of the times, and to remind every righteous man, every one who is upright in heart, of the duty of gratitude he owes to the King of Zion, and the duty of affection he owes to his fellow-men; offering his prayers for them without ceasing, and assuring himself that his effectual fervent prayer will prevail.

The subject of prayer is confessedly of vast importance : few subjects are more so; and few, it is apprehended, are in reality less understood. The general idea of prayer is sufficiently plain; the outward form is very extensively observed; but the ground and the principles of it are certainly worthy of more attentive consideration, and more careful investigation, than is generally paid to it. There is much important meaning in the apostle Paul's language, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.” It is true that “God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth :" but no man can offer spiritual sacrifices to God, unless his mind be informed according to the truth, and his understanding employed in the contemplation of spiritual objects. We greatly fear that many professors of religion attach some wrong idea, and others no definite and rational idea at all, to this most important duty: hence, there have ever been found some individuals (and unhappily they are not wanting in the present age) who have fallen into disgraceful extravagances, both of conduct and expectation, under the cover of exalted devotion; hence too many have rushed into an opposite extreme, and been deprived of its real advantages, through the fear of wildness and enthusiasm.

The duty of prayer is grounded in nature itself; it is an appropriate act of homage to the Universal King, “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” Its efficacy is asserted by an inspired apostle, in the passage under consideration. Examples are produced in support of it, and promises are recorded as an encouragement to it. We admit that the specific allusions contained in this chapter are of an extraordinary and miraculous nature, and cannot be regarded as a rule for the present times; but the principle is the same in every age, which appears to be this :—that, according to the merciful and wise method of the Divine government, prayer is a medium through which our great Parent is graciously pleased to convey important blessings to his needy and guilty creatures ; that is, in other words, God requires us to feel, and express by prayer, a deep and solemn interest in the favours which he is ready to grant.

In pursuing our brief inquiry into this important subject, it is proposed,

1. To offer some cautionary remarks against the abuse of prayer. And then, II. To

urge the apostle's instructions in reference to it, as contained in this passage.

I. Some cautionary remarks.

We have already alluded to the two extremes into which many have fallen, with respect to this great and essential duty; extravagant expectations on the one hand, and sceptical doubts on the other, are alike subversive of the spiritual interests of mankind; therefore,

1. Let us beware of the influence of merely human passions, in our solemn approach to the Searcher of hearts. It is by no means impossible that a man of ardent feeling should deceive both himself and his friends, when his natural impetuosity is directed to religious objects. Passion may be mistaken for spirituality; and the danger is greatly increased by the fact that every object that is made the subject of prayer is of deep importance, and therefore worthy of the liveliest emotions of the heart : we ought to be fervent in spirit. Prayer without importunity, is like a material body without the breath of life ; but our fervency must also be well regulated by consistent knowledge and holy principle.

Our feelings may be excited on religious subjects as well as others, even to excess; and the language adopted under their influence will be forcible and strong, while yet the real principle of holiness, the essential spirituality of devotion, may be utterly unknown. Sudden and powerful impulses are always to be suspected ; they are not acquired by knowledge; they are not corrected by rational and sober reflection ; they are generally the offspring of a rude, untaught, but active mind; and the only answer we can reasonably expect to the unhallowed effusions of human passion, mistaken for prayer, is a rebuke. “Ye know not what ye ask; ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” We justly attach every idea of solemnity and importance to all things connected with a religious profession, and to the observance of all religious duties; but prayer is, without exception, the most solemn act in which a creature polluted with sin, and laden with guilt, can be engaged. If at any time our understanding ought to be in full exercise, if in any case the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart ought to be distinguished by correct knowledge, by serious and deliberate reflections, and by unimpassioned sobriety of mind; it is when when we seek the privilege of intercourse with the Father of light, and when we address him professedly on subjects of eternal moment.

2. It is very important, that we be guarded against unwarranted expectations in answer to prayer. We are not allowed to expect, by any promises of Scripture, that we shall, by our prayers, accomplish any thing out of the general order of nature; or that God will, for our sake, effect some great object without the application of appropriate and efficient means. If we ask what we have no right to ask; if we apply to the only wise God for that which we cannot assure ourselves is according to his will; there is no scriptural encouragement to expect a favourable answer: in that case, we shall “ask and receive not, because we ask amiss.” It is perfectly consistent with our acknowledged circumstances, to pray for our daily bread; to solicit the protection of Him in whose hands our life is; to "acknowledge God in all our ways:" but it is not to be supposed, that the desires and feelings of man, especially in relation to things temporal, should ever be made the standard or rule of the Divine government. Most persons are sometimes placed in a situation which would induce them, unless their feelings were chastened by the mighty power of religious principle, to present very improper requests before the throne of God; and many would be glad to get to themselves a distinguished name, as having power to prevail with God, being great in prayer and faith ; but as the word of God, which is the only rule of prayer and faith, does not encourage, in any instance, an expectation that the sovereign King should suspend, for a single moment, the course and order of his ways for our sake; much less can we expect any Divine interposition of an extraordinary and miraculous character, without betraying an arrogance of heart, most opposite to the lowly, humble, unassuming spirit of the gospel of Christ.

There was a time when the Son of God dwelt with man upon the earth—when so great a Being could exhibit to his creatures his own power and Godhead—when he judged it right, in vindication of his great mission, to make manifest his own Divine glory. He could say to the leper—"Be thou cleansed.” He could exclaim, standing at the mouth of the grave—“Lazarus come forth."

There was a time also, when men of like passions with ourselves were set for the defence of the gospel; and a Peter, and a John, could say,

with

permanent effect to a poor cripple, “In the name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk.” And there was a time, when for the same purposes, the sick might feel themselves encouraged to obey the apostolic directions given in this chapter, and to send for the minister or ministers of the churches, in the humble hope that the prayer of faith would miracu

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »