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alone this year also, and I will dig about it, and dung it, and if it bear fruit, well; but if not, after that thou shalt cut it down."* Are any of his disciples exposed to peculiar temptations and dangers, so that it may be said of them, as it was of Peter, “ Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat ?” he adds, “But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.”+ Indeed, we could never pray ourselves, we could never approach unto God so as to be accepted of him, but through the intercession of Christ. “No man," saith our Lord, “cometh unto the Father, but' by me." I By his prayers we receive the Holy Spirit, 8 and many other spiritual blessings. In the 17th of John, you have a delightful specimen and example of the prayers which Jesus our Lord himself makes for his people.
Jesus Christ also offers up our prayers. It was the office of the Jewish priests to present the prayers of Israel unto God at the time they burned incense before the Lord on the altar. And thus our High Priest, by his own intercession, makes even our poor and imperfect sighs and groans prevailing and effectual. The very best prayers we make, even when aided by the Holy Spirit of our God, are so tainted with our sins, and so mingled with our imperfections, as to need his mediation for their acceptance. He has assured us,|| “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” This name of Christ enabled those who used it, through faith in his name, to work miracles, cast out devils, speak with new tongues, and oppose and overcome Satan, the world, and the flesh; and by it we shall assuredly prevail in all our petitions. Our persons and our prayers are accepted of God, in and by Jesus Christ.
It is delightful to consider further, that the intercession of our Lord is all in our behalf. It is said of the prophet Elijah, “Elias made intercession to God against Israel." “He was," says Trail, “a severe prophet, and had severe service put into his hand; but our great Prophet and High Priest makes no intercession against his Israel, but all for them.” In that pattern of what he is doing,** we may ob* Luke xiii. 8, 9. Luke xxii. 32. John xiv. 6.
John xiv. 16. || John xvi. 23. 1 Eph. i. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 5. *** John xvii.
serve that he mentions not one fault of his disciples, but selects what was good in their conduct, and then pleads their cause. Let us see in this his love; let us trust him entirely.
The intercession of Christ is an enduring act of mercy. His grace and love never fail. It is said,* "He ever liveth to make intercession.” Therefore the Apostle adds, " He is able to save to the uttermost.” We need not fear that we are now too late to obtain the advantages of it. He intercedes for his church now, as he did in the days of his flesh.t
It is also an intercession for sinners. It was foretold of him, “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.[ Hence he prayed even for his murderers. When they had taunted and reviled him, and nailed him to the accursed tree, he still prays, “Father, forgive them.” And there is a special intercession for his people, which may greatly encourage believers. St. Paul says, “who also maketh intercession for us." The connexion here shows him to mean God's peculiar people; hence our Lord says,|| “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine.” Augustine says, “ Christian men in their prayers mutually recommend each other to the divine regard. That person for whom no one intercedes, while he intercedes for all, is the true and only mediator.”
I have stated thus fully and plainly, from the Holy Scriptures, the doctrine of the intercession of Jesus Christ, because it is not only a most delightful truth to those who feel the burden of their sins, but is highly profitable to us when duly improved. To this end it should be considered before, at the time of, and after, your prayers.
Before prayers. Make it the only ground of your encouragement to draw near to God. Do not, on the one hand, trust in any preparation which you may have made, or in any dispositions which you may have acquired; and on the other hand, whatever your former transgressions, or aggravated wickedness, may have been, ** or whatever is the conviction of your present sinfulness,tt or * Heb. vii. 25. + John xvii. 20, 24. | Isa. liii. 12. Rom. viii. 34. 1. John xvii. 9.
| Ps. xxv. 7. ** Ps. xxv. 11; lxxix. 8, 11. tt Jer. xiv. 7.
your indisposition to approach God, still endeavor to come with freedom, knowing that you " have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins."*
At the time of prayer. Let the intercession of Christ encourage you. Expect, through his mediation, the spirit of grace and supplication.t By the exercise of faith, however weak, still expect to receive, “out of his fullness, grace,” suited to our necessity. However great the matter for which you ask, however many things in yourself may tend to discourage or discomfort you; you have a sufficient ground to hope for the acceptance of your prayers, through the name and mediation of Jesus Christ. His gracious intercession remains firm and unchangeable. Let faith in Christ's merits quiet and compose your troubled mind, and dispose and strengthen you to leave every petition with comfort and confidence in his hands.
After prayer. However conscience may accuse you of many wanderings, imperfections, and distractions, or abuses of former answers to prayer, or however earnest or fervent your petitions, still plead for acceptance only on this ground, Christ is your mediator. Your hope of a favorable reception of any prayer is, and is only, in the name and work of Jesus Christ, and not in your own prayers. A practical writer observes, “If we cast our anchor on Christ, and rest upon his merits, and intercession, in order to the receiving of an answer to our prayer, we shall have a sufficient hold to keep us sure and stedfast, in the midst of the tossing waves of this world. By this we may answer all. Christ is faithful, and a tender sympathizing High Priest, and so will not, and cannot forget or neglect our cause." I
“He,” says Ambrose, “is our mouth, with which we address the Father; our eye, by which we behold him; our hands, by which we present ourselves to him: without whose mediation neither we, nor any of all the saints, have the least intercourse with God.”
* 1 John ii. 1. 2.
† Zech. xii. 10. | Brown on Prayer: an author to whom the writer has been often indebted.
ON PRIVATE PRAYER. It is observed by Dr. Owen, “that if a man of a carnal mind be brought into a large company, he will have much to do; if into a company of Christians, he will feel little interest; if into a still smaller, engaged in religious exercises, he will feel still less; but if taken into a closet, and forced to meditate on God and eternity, this will be insupportable to him.” Man is evidently by nature averse to all communion with God. There is an enmity to be removed.* And hence arises the necessity of a change of mind; of obtaining “a spiritual mind,” without which, spiritual truths and exercises can neither engage nor influence the heart. The man who possesses a spiritual mind, does, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, often find that closet retirement, which Dr. Owen states to be so insupportable to the carnal mind, a real privilege.
The duty of prayer generally has already been proved; and that of closet devotion is plain from our Lord's direction.t Let us endeavor, however, always to consider it as an advantage afforded to us, rather than as a work required of us.
Baxter well expresses this:f “ What delightful converse may a Christian have with God alone! He is always present, always at leisure to be spoke with, always easy of access. He has no interest that will clash with our happiness. He never mistakes our meaning nor our character. In proportion, indeed, as any thing of God appears in men, their converse is excellent and delightful. But there is so much of vanity and sin in all of us, as exceedingly darkens our light, and damps the pleasure, and blasts the profit of our mutual converse. How often have I been delighted in God, when I have found most deceit and darkness in the world! How often has he comforted me, when it was not in man to do it!”
In order to liave a tuiler view of secret prayer, we will * Hum. viit. 7.
| Matt. vi. 6. 1 See his excellent little Tract, “ Converse with God in Solitude.”
consider it under different sections, as it is distinguished from other kinds of worship; as it respects the object of worship; the subjects to be mentioned; the use of forms, the various parts, the answer, the frequency, and the reward of prayer. After dwelling on these particulars in this chapter, we may afterwards be the more brief in remarks on other kinds of prayer. SECT. I.-On Secret Prayer, as distinguished from other
kinds of worship. There are some things in which secret prayer has an advantage over social and public worship. By praying in secret we give God the glory of his being everywhere present, and seeing and knowing all things. We acknowledge not only his general providence, as taking care of communities; but his particular providence, as watching over us individually. We express our faith in his presence, his power, and his love.
The Christian can also in secret give free vent to every desire; vary his request according to the present state of his mind, or the present necessities of the day or hour in which he is living; he can dwell on his personal wants; and, in short, give full scope to his feelings, and pour out his whole soul before God, with a freedom that he would not before his dearest friend.
Prayer in secret is also considered by our Lord as forming a line of distinction between the Christian and the mere professor. “When thou prayest thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men."* When we are constant in secret prayer, not as an act of self-righteousness, but from a feeling of necessity, and of its being both our duty and privilege, we may hope well of our sincerity, and of the general state of our souls before God.
Other advantages of secret prayer, will be noticed afterwards. But it must not be concealed, that there are peculiar difficulties in constant and fervent secret prayer. We have many adversaries opposing us. We are by nature both reluctant to the duty, and utterly helpless and insufficient in ourselves. We can do nothing by our own strength;
* Matt. vi. 5.