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ence to that agency ; it being an examination, not of the nature of the Holy Spirit's operation, but of the product thence resulting. These things premised, I remark, that the utility of prayer is comprehended;
IN ITS DIRECT TENDENCY TO IMPROVE THE HUMAN CHARACTER ;
IN ITS COUNTERACTING INFLUENCE ON WHATEVER TENDS TO INJURE THAT CHARACTER ;
IN ITS EFFICACIOUS INFLUENCE ON WHATEVER IS FAVOURABLE TO IT ; AND
IN ITS PERSUASIVE INFLUENCE ON THE GREAT SOURCE OF BLESSED
I. Prayer, more than any other means, is adapted, in its own nature, to improve all the powers and properties of the human soul.
Without a countervailing influence, the soul of man will always acquire the character of the objects, with which it has intercourse. If those objects be great, they will leave the stamp of greatness ; if good, the stamp of goodness on the soul :-the stamp of littleness, on the other hand, if the objects be little, and of baseness, if they be base.
Again, the soul is more or less strongly impressed with the image of objects, accordingly as it contemplates them more or less directly and intensely. He who regards a thing through the medium of historical information, will be less affected by it, than he who with his own eye sees it: and he who looks at an object closely and minutely, will have a deeper and more exact impression of it, than he who casts towards it one or two glances.
Experience thoroughly confirms these observations. Look the world over, and find the individual, whose mind and moral character do not correspond to the objects, about which his thoughts and affections have been most employed. Is there any truer proverb, than that “ he who walketh with wise men shall be wise, and the companion of fools be destroyed ?”
To know what a man is, it is necessary but to know what company he keeps, what persons and things he has chosen to be familiar with ; and as his familiarity with them has been greater or less, so it is certain, that he bears, more or less perfectly, their image, whether good or evil.
But if these remarks be incontrovertible, so likewise is the utility of prayer. Prayer is an exercise of the soul. It expresses the state of the soul in intercourse with God. With God, did I say? Most certainly so; it is to no other than God, supremely Good and Glorious, that the soul elevates herself in priyer-elevates not only her intellect, but her conscience, her affections, her sympathies--her whole immortal and ethereal self ;--not to speculate-but to adoremto communemto breathe out her love, and desires and longings, into the very bosom and heart of the High and Lofty One. What mode of intercourse more direct, more intimate, more affectionate, or better adapted to acquire the image of the Object ?
But let us consider the nature of this high intercourse more particularly. The different parts of prayer require correspondent acts and affections of mind, which comprise the substance of all moral excellence, and which prayer, by frequently calling them forth, tends, beyond every thing else, to invigorate and mature. Prayer is adoration: And when are the divine perfections so likely to expand the soul with the ardours of holy love and delight, as when brought distinctly before her eye in this heavenly employment? The philosopher may be indevout, while he traces these perfections in the frame of nature; and the theologian may coldly speculate and discourse concerning them as exhibited in scripture. But he who fixes a firm and single eye on God in prayer, and dwells on one attribute and another with adoring admiration, will not be long unconscious of that pure flame, in which are blended all the elements of virtue and happiness. --Prayer is confession of sin: And when is sin more apt to melt the heart into the soft relentings of godly contrition, than when carefully recounted to Him against whom it has all been committed, with a spirit awed into reverence and submission by the pure majesty of the Divine Presence? You may speak lightly of sin, when your words are directed to the sinful ear of a creature like yourself; but get you into some solitary place, and set the Lord distinctly and immediately before you ; and spread out your offences before His undefiled eye ; and under His pure and piercing gaze, lay your heart and life open ;
and I see not how you are ever to become repentant, if your sorrows do not then begin to flow forth. Prayer is supplication for mercy, grounded upon the blood of Christ, and the promises, which in him are yea and amen: And if ever the heart hath advantages for becoming all subdued and possessed by the sentiments and feelings, which those wonders of divine love should excite, it is now. Men may speak to one another of these subjects with as little sensibility as they feet towards common things : but when the soul collects herself, and comes, and, convinced of her guilt, stands trembling and pleading before her great Judge, and tells Him of His professed clemency and graciousness, and how His own Son hath loved her, and how He Himself hath said, and sworn that for his worthy Son's sake He will withhold no blessing from any humble contrite suppliant--what a resistless tendency hath all this to transfuse the soul with confidence, and faith, and full assurance of hope. Prayer, finally, is thanksgiving for favours received : And, sure, if ever gratitude unfeigned and unextinguishable do glow in a mortal's breast, this is the occupation in which the ethereal passion is generated and nourished. You may be reminded that goodness and mercy have followed you all the days of your life, and look around you upon a thousand witnesses of the divine benignity still compassing you about ; 'and your heart still be but little awake to its numberless and everlasting obligations. But not so, if, in a secret interview with your Father in heaven, you yourself tell over to Him but some few of the countless mercies which His hand hath been incessantly bestowing on you, since you first became the object of His providential and gracious care. Thus does it appear, how the various excellencies of holy character are instrumentally produced and promoted by means of this exercise : and it would appear more convincingly, if the time permitted more detail.
Now as it hence results, that a man, who lives a prayerful life, must be a man of transcendent loveliness and worth, we might be fairly required to subject our conclusion to the decisive test of fact and example. And we need not be unwilling to abide the trial. So much was the life of Enoch a life of prayer, so much did he acknowledge the divine presence, so intimately did he converse with his Maker at all times, that the Scripture, giving a brief description of this ancient prophet, declares, that he “walked with God.” estimable and spiritual did that man's character become, that God, seeing the world was not worthy of him, translated him to heaven, that he should not taste of death. And of Elijah, another singular example of prayer, it is also testified, that the Lord took him up into heaven, not by death, but by a whirlwind. And who knows not that in every age the best and brightest of men have been those, who approached nearest to these illustrious patterns of prayer ? At this present time, there are persons, of but inferior parts and accomplishments, who by reason of great prayerfulness transcend, in moral worth, professors of high distinction and splendid gists. Religionists, however exalted, who are not often with God in prayer, are but little profited
themselves by all their privileges; and but little profitable to others by all their intercourse with them ; but contrariwise, being persons of prayer by character, and not in fact, are stumbling-blocks to many; and are the principal causes of this world's incredulity in regard to the efficacy and usefulness of prayer. Great therefore and unparalleled is the direct tendency of prayer to improve the human character. But,
II. Its utility is further manifest, let ine next remark, in its counteracting influence on whatever tends to injure that character.
If a thing proves its excellence by its own good tendency on what it directly exerts itself upon, it proves it still more by resisting and overcoming what has a contrary tendency--a tendency to counteract and neutralize the good it aims to accomplish. If a man show me friendship by coming to me with favours and benefits, he shows it further by defeating the designs of certain enemies who intend to rob me of them, as soon as I get them into my possession.
Now there are many things in this world always acting upon the soul with a most debasing and ruinous tendency; and there are no means of overcoming this tendency so efficacious as prayer.
To speak first generally ;-—there is an influence in worldly things so hostile to the things of the Spirit of God, as sometimes to make these latter things appear like empty shadows, or cunningly devised fables ; and the mysteries of the everlasting Gospel are as the superstitious stories which frighten credulous children ; and judgment and eternity, heaven and hell, are words, by which crazed or criminal imaginations have expressed their fictions of happiness and horror. It needs no demonstration, that this is an influence utterly subversive of all religion and virtuemadapted to brutalize man's rational nature ; and of course, if there be a future state in fact, to involve him in all its untold terrors and torments. Nor need I stay long to show, to what vast extent this baleful influence hath full and domineering ascendency over infatuated mankind; how, though there be few professed skeptics and scorners, there are but a few whose lives do not preach skepticism from beginning to end ;--which practical skepticism is, to all terrible intents, as bad as any other. Now to overcome this influence, there is no other way than to have the soul brought under a strong impression and bearing from spiritual things. By the very laws of mind, one impression or frame of spirit cannot be permanently displaced but by the introduction of another ; and that other never can be generated, but in the presence of its appropriate object. Of necessity, therefore.
must the things of this world sway and debase the human mind, so long as the things of the invisible world do not exert themselves upon it. You must be exposed to the action of unseen things, or remain in unworthy bondage to things which are seen. You must be in such circumstances, that the spiritual glories of God and Christ, and the promises and threatenings of scripture, may pour their peculiar influence on your heart, or else you must remain the slave of mammon, and sordid drudge of the flesh.
Now it is almost unnecessary to remark, that there are no circumstances in which these objects are so nearly approached and so deeply, felt, as when the soul solemnly betakes herself to the exercises of prayer. I grant that reading, and hearing, and conversing about divine things, rightly managed, may make profitable impressions, and should by no means be omitted. But there are thousands that read, and hear, and converse, and though some feeling may be generated, it passes over their minds as the little circles, produced by the falling pebble, pass over the surface of the smooth water. If those persons could be persuaded to try the influence of true and fervent prayer, they would find it more availing. Retired from the world, shut up alone with Him who dwelleth in secret, kneeling in His awful presence, fixing the heart for communicating and receiving, speaking to Him and not of Him merely ;-Oh, this brings the unseen world into view, and casts earth into shade and emptiness ; this takes importance and reality off from temporal things, and puts those qualities on eternal and spiritual things; this places the soul on the verge of eternity, and subjects her to the beams, and breezes, and blessed visions of heaven. Here there is hope of her losing her skepticism and worldliness. In these circumstances this world hath little power ; and it were not surprising, if he who habituates himself to an exercise like this, should soon have his conversation more in heaven than on earth, and his walk more with God than with men.
But it may show yet more forcibly the counteracting power of prayer, to consider its operation in some particular instances of its resistance to the world.
The world then, we all know, tends to make the sons and daughters of men light-minded; and Levity is no ornament of man's rational being ; nor is it at all suited to our condition in a region full of dangers, and lamentations, and arrows of death ; neither is it compatible with our present or our eternal well-being. But how can levity stand before prayer ? Books and sermons may be unable to contend with it. You may tell me of those, who let no day pass without running through a