« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
one's eyes. I have seen so many instances of the failing of such impressions, that would almost furnish a history. I have been acquainted with them when made under all kinds of circumstances, and have seen them fail in the event, when made with such circumstances as have been fairest and brightest and most promising.” And he adds,
Why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure word of God, that we have in such abundance, and such clearness, now since the canon of Scripture is completed? Why should we desire to have anything added to them by impulses from above? Why should not we rest in that standing rule that God has given to his church, which the apostle teaches us is surer than a voice from heaven ?”
But, it may be asked, whether the Holy Spirit may not make known to us what is about to be done, by exciting our desires towards a particular object with unusual force ? And'is not this what is to be understood by a spirit of prayer ? I think not. If it were so, it would be the same as a new revelation. And the faith exercised in view of it, would be the same as the faith of miracles. The apostles preached by divine inspiration ; for the Bible was not then completed. And miracles were necessary to prove their inspiration. But the Bible is now completed, and is declared to be a sufficient guide; and all addition or diminution is prohibited, in the most solemn manner. Besides, if it could be our duty to trust in any such impressions or desires, we must certainly know that they were from the Holy Spirit, and not from any other cause, before they could be any warrant for our belief. It would not be sufficient to know that they were holy desires. For Paul had such desires for the salvation of his nation, and expresses them in the strongest manner; but they were not granted. And if it should be granted that the Holy Spirit does thus make special revelations now, in particular cases, which are a sufficient warrant for believing that the event revealed will take place, it must be granted that they are special cases ; and, of course, that those who do not have these revelations are not to blame for not believing them. If this were the prayer of faith, it could not be a duty binding upon all, but only upon those to whom these revelations upon all.
were made. And not binding upon them, till there was undoubted evidence that they were from the Spirit of God, and not from the spirit of darkness. But it cannot be so; for the true prayer of faith is a duty binding
There is another consequence resulting from the theory, that we must, in order to pray right, believe that the very thing we ask will be done. It is, that we must never pray with submission. According to the theory in question, the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the garden, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," must be regarded as an unbelieving prayer, and must be condemned as wrong.
And not only so, but we must condemn all submission in relation to those things which are proper subjects of prayer. But everything that we may lawfully desire, and ask for, is a proper subject of prayer; and there is no duty more frequently enjoined, nor for which there is more frequent occasion, than the duty of submission. And to withhold it in relation to those things which we ask in prayer, is, virtually, to set up our own wisdom as infallible.
But it may be said, for it has been said, that, in praying for temporal blessings we may exercise submission, but not in praying for spiritual blessings. In relation to these, it is said, “We are to come boldly to the throne of grace, with no reservation, with no hesitation ; for we know the will of God on this subject. He has expressly said, and with an oath, that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that he turn from his way and live.” Is there any ground for such a distinction ? Is there anything in the Scriptures which forbids us to pray in faith for temporal blessings ? Are we not taught in the Lord's prayer to ask for our daily bread? And may we not do it in faith ? If faith is inconsistent with submission, we must cease to pray for all those things in which we may exercise submission ; for we must not pray for anything without faith. But, do we know the will of God in relation to spiritual blessings; such a will as can be the ground for believing that they will certainly be granted ? In itself considered, doubtless, God desires the best good of every creature he has made. But, does he, on the whole, will or choose to bestow all spiritual blessings upon all men ? And is that the meaning of his oath that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked ? Is it his determination to save all ? We must believe that it is, in order to make his will the ground for praying for their salvation believing that it will be granted. If the reason assigned, then, for praying for spiritual blessings without submission, is a sufficient reason for praying for them believing that they will be granted, and the blessings asked for are the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of Christians, and it is a duty to pray thus for all men, it can be on no other ground than that of universal salvation. Those who believe that doctrine, and those only, can pray for the conversion of every sinner believing that it will be done. But so I cannot beiieve, while I assent to the word of God as contained in the Bible.
Will it be asked, then, must we pray expecting nothing? By no means. God has not said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me, in vain. Right prayer is always heard, and God will always give it all that influence with him which it is suitable it should have. No prayer will ever be lost. If it do not have influence to obtain the very thing asked for, it will have influence to obtain something better; and something with which the child of God will be better pleased, when he comes to know all the reasons of the
And while he does not know those reasons, the dutiful and affectionate child has room to exercise faith in the wisdom and goodness of his Heavenly Father. And he does exercise it. And this faith is well pleasing to God, and an anchor to his own soul.
But, it may be asked further, whether the child of God, after being conscious to himself that he has prayed for a particular object, with a truly filial temper, has not more reason to hope he shall obtain the thing desired, than he had before he prayed for it in this manner ? I answer, yes. And why? Because God has given abundant evidence in the Scriptures that prayer is an effectual means of obtaining blessings, both for ourselves and others. The prayers of Jacob turned away the anger of Esau. The prayers of Moses often saved the Israelites in the wilderness. The prayers of Joshua stopped the sun and moon in their course, The prayers of Samuel
saved the people from the Philistines. The prayers of Elijah shut up the heavens for three years and six months, and again procured rain to water the earth. The prayers of Jehoshaphat procured a great deliverance from his enemies. The prayers of Hezekiah prolonged his life. And the prayers of the church procured the deliverance of Peter. Many other cases are on record, for our encouragement. The providence of God, in every age of the world, has furnished multiplied instances of the prevalence of prayer. The church, indeed, were not expecting Peter, when he made his appearance before them. But their prayers are not to be considered the less efficacious on that account. And the prayer of Paul, that the thorn in his flesh might be removed, procured a gracious answer, though a different blessing was bestowed from the one he asked.
When the church are roused to pray for a revival of religion, and the conversion of sinners, there is much more reason to hope the blessing will be obtained, than there was before they had this spirit of prayer. The connection which has been observed, in the providence of God, between the prayers of the church, and the bestowment of this blessing, furnishes the reason for this hope. And there is no minister, who desires the spiritual good of his people, but must take encouragement, when he sees indications of a greater spirit of prayer among them. It is the usual course of divine Providence; and this is the ground of his hope that the blessing he desires is about to be granted. I call it hope, and not faith. For, though the event is highly probable, it is not certain. And, while probability is the ground of hope, it requires absolute certainty to be a ground of faith. Probability may, indeed, sometimes appear so strong, that the hope may be easily mistaken for faith, by those who do not carefully discriminate. And, in this way, I think, some truly pious people have fallen into the mistake of supposing that they must believe the thing asked for will be granted. They have felt their hearts uncommonly drawn out in prayer for revival of religion. This has led them to converse with their brethren, and to endeavor to touse them too. They have found their brethren partaking in the same feelings, and manifesting the same
spirit of prayer. And their hope has in this
been excited. While thus praying, and thus hoping, they have become more diligent and faithful in the use of proper means to excite the attention of the impenitent around them. And they have found them easily accessible, and disposed to listen seriously to what was said to them. This has added to their hopes, and increased their diligence and their prayers, till the probability of success has become so strong, that they have indulged great confidence that the blessing would follow. But still, it is hope, and not faith, so long as it is built upon probabilities, and not upon absolute certainty. But, want of careful discrimination has led them, in these circumstances, to mistake strong hope for faith; and they have been led to embrace the opinion that they had prayed believing that the event would take place; and that it has taken place in consequence of their praying in the exercise of this belief.
In like manner, doubtless, it often happens, in praying for the conversion of particular individuals. A variety of circumstances may lead the Christian to feel an unusual interest in the spiritual welfare of an individual. In view of those circumstances, he is led to pray for that individual. And the more he prays for him the more he will be likely to contemplate the circumstances which give a particular interest to his case.
While doing this, his feelings are still more excited in his behalf. And as a consequence of this, his heart is drawn out in prayer for him, with peculiar earnestness. When reflecting upon the state of his own seelings in this case, and reviewing the prayers he has made, so far as he finds they possess the marks of true prayer, he finds some encouragement to pray more; and if he can, also, to use the proper means to call the attention of that individual to the concerns of his soul. The earnestness you manifest in his behalf is adapted to impress his mind, and lead him to attend seriously to the subject. From this you take encouragement to continue praying, and using the means with him; and as it often happens, God is pleased apparently to give success to these means, and he is hopefully converted. Your hopes, faint at first, perhaps, but gradually growing stronger, as you have perceived greater