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taking these things together, there be not good reason to esteem prayer useful,-none I think can doubt, except those who are resolved not to be convinced.
IV. But all the truth on this subject has not yet been told. Prayer has another bearing-another kind of influence, than any which hath yet been considered. It has an influence, not only upon ourselves, and upon
all the means and second causes, which tend either to our injury or advantage, but upon Him likewise, to whom it is addressed upon
the mind and conduct of God himself.
So, most obviously, are we taught in holy scripture, especially in those winning words of Christ—What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone ? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things unto them that ask him." For what are we to gather from this and many parallel texts, if the only influence of prayer is that, which it exerts either directly or indirectly upon ourselves? Is it consistent with any just rule of interpreting language, to give this, or any thing compatible with this, as the meaning of passages which represent (iod as bestowing benefits in answer to earnest supplication for them? How in ansier, if the supplication hath no infuence to procure them ? Is it not clear, that any rendering of these passages, which admits not that prayer has in some way a persuasive influence on God, is a wresting,-not an explaining of scripture, adapted to make men heartless and cold in an exercise, which should never be otherwise than fervent.
Look at scriptural examples of prayer. When Jacob, after wrestling in this exercise till break of day, still refused to cease without a blessing, how far was he from supposing, that the only influence of prayer was that which it had on his own mind? Did those effectual prayers of Moses, which turned away wrath from rebellious Israel, even after God had threatened to destroy them, exert no influence except on Moses himself ? Were those prayers of Elijah, which availed to shut, and afterwards to open heaven without all influence, except on Elijah's own heart? And what shall we say
of Abraham's prayer for Sodom? or Daniel's for Jerusalem ? or that of the first Christians, which brought an angel down from heaven for St. Peter's enlargement ? or, indeed, of any prayer in behalf of others, if the influence of prayer in confined to those who offer it?
And why should it be thought inconsistent with the infinite perfection of God, that He should be influenced by prayer? It is surely agreeable to God's perfection to love righteousness and hate iniquity; and give due expression of that love and hatred by distributing equal rewards and punisbments. As well deny the being of God, as make Him indifferent to holiness and sin. But true prayer is holiness, and prayerlessness is sin. In him then who prays, God discerns something excellent ; something which, consistently with his perfection, he may approve and reward. In him who does not pray, God discerns something evil and hateful ; and which therefore must draw forth His abhorrence and indignation. Just as a prodigal son, who asks forgiveness of his father, presents, in his penitent and submissive spirit, a reason why his father should receive him to his arms ;-reason it may be, that prevails; while another unreformed prodigal, who implores no forgiveness, presents no such reason, and receives no such favour.
But does not this doctrine make God changeable ? Not more so, I first reply, than God's being influenced by the obstinacy of sinners, suddenly and without remedy to destroy them ; and by the holiness of his people, to smile upon them with complacency and loving kindness. But wherein, let me ask, consists the unchangeableness of God? Not in His being always entirely destitute of moral feeling ; but in his feeling always alike towards the same objects in the same circumstances. God doubtless has perfectly pure and proper feeling toward all things. But all things being eternally present in His view, He is eternally and always in the same degree and manner affected by them. -The prayer that forms a reason for his showing favour at this moment, has always been before His infinite mind; and before it with all its present persuasive influence.
Nor is there any conflict between our doctrine of prayer and that of the divine purposes. The purposes of God embrace all events, and embrace them in that very order in which they occur in time. If, in the order of actual occurrence, prayer always precedes the bestowal of blessings, it precedes it agreeably to the order of the divine purposes, if, in the purpose of God, prayer eternally stands present as the immediate condition of his favour, it were inconsistent, if things were not so, in event.
It does not appear, therefore, that we speak otherwise than soberly and truly, when we say, that prayer hath power with God. There is nothing in the word of God, nothing in His nature, nothing in His purposes, to discourage the hope of prevailing with Him by prayer. Far, infinitely far different is the fact. Hath the hungry child encouragement to hope he shall not ask his parent, in vain, for wholesome food ? The most affectionate parent would sooner give such a child a stone for bread, or a scorpion for a fish, than the Father of mercies refuse his Holy Spirit to them that ask him. There is not in the universe a being who, compared with God, hath any susceptibility to the influence of prayer. What emanations of love hath it drawn from his heart! What blessings of goodness from His hand! His mightiest acts have been achieved in answer to pr fer. “What terrible judgments have been averted ; what mighty armies conquered ; nay more, the very course of nature changed- the sun himself arrested by the power of prayer!"'~Who can assign the limits of that power? Who can tell what influence prayer hath had on the government of God in this world? But since all the parts of God's empire are united, its influence has travelled beyond earth's boundary, and is now exerting itself, and will exert itself for ever, on the far distant tracts of creation.
While I muse on this, Oh how refreshing and invigorating is the recollection, that at this present period, the smoke of the incense of prayer is rising up to heaven day and night from God's universal Church in the four quarters of the globe! Assuredly the time draws nigh of the restitution of all things. What wonders shall the arm of God presently achieve in fulfilment of the desires of his saints. Away fly all obstructions to the universal spread of Christian truth. pass the infidels and scorners of the day to their own proper places, and the Gospel of the kingdom becomes the glory of all nations, and earth resounds with “ Alleluia, Salvation !” Transporting scene ! and yet is it not possible, that some man may hear all this, and, without gainsaying it, remain unapprised of his private concern in the blest contemplation? Let me put thee in mind, then, my brother, that the end of hearing is practice; and that thou wilt be' but a despiser of divine counsel, if thy life henceforth be not a life of true prayer. It depends upon thy conduct concerning prayer, how it is to fare with thy soul for ever.
It depends upon this, whether thou find in God a friend or an enemy; and of course, whether all things shall work together for thy good or thy ruin. It may not, indeed, depend upon thy praying, whether the ordinary fruits of the divine bounty shall be bestowed or not. God's sunshine and rain are given to the praying and the prayerless; and even blasphemers and atheists riot on His exhaustless beneficence. But prayer makes this difference—that while temporal blessings become as wings, with which a praying man soars to his eternal rest; they become as millstones about the necks of the prayer
Away Nor can
less, with which they will be sunk down in the deep of eternal despair! “ I will curse your blessings,” saith He who gave them-—"yea, I have cursed them already, because ye lay it not to heart to give God the glory.” Whether thou prayest or not, a smooth full tide of prosperity may float thee along for a season; but a storm is gathering ; and soon the current will turn against thee ; and if thou art not a man of prayer, the proud waters shall overwhelm thee, and thy prosperity be thy destruction.
suppress the apprehension, that thine own soul will not be the only victim of thy negligence in this prime regard. Thou standest not separate and aloof from all the rest of the sons of men ; but sustainest towards them relations through which, of necessity, thou exertest some influence, hurtful or happy, on their eternal condition. Art thou one in authority? Thine inferiors regarding theo perhaps, not only as higher, but as more knowing than themselves, learn from thy prayerlessness, that to cast off fear and restrain prayer to God is no crime, no disgrace, and of no ill consequence-Under which delusion thou art leading them on to the perdition of ungodly
Art thou a parent ? Then thine. doubtless is one of the families that call not on the name of the Lord ; and from all the exalting influences of prayer, thine offspring, by thy fault, are withheld. And will they not, by the same means, be also withheld from grace and the inheritance of life? Art thou a member of the church? Thy remissness in prayer exerts a secret influence to make the courts of Zion desolate, and her ways to mourn; and to take out of their places or obscure the brightness of her golden candlesticks. Art thou a minister of God? Thousands may go away to wail for ever in the prisons of darkness, because thou givest not thyself to the exercise of prayer. By that one neglect, thy thoughts are sensualized-thy discourses robbed of unction, thy walk before the saints made a snare and scandal, and all thy ministrations sadly marred and misdirected, if not utterly perverted. The prayerless man perisheth not alone in his iniquity.
A word, at parting, to the saints and faithful in Christ. Great, beloved brethren, and manifold are your privileges ; but what I now would humbly call upon you to bear in constant remembrance, is the power which you, all impotent and helpless as you are in yourselves, can exert through prayer. The feeblest among you can chase a thousand—can put ten thousand to flight--can overcome the world--can elevate himself to higher honour than earth can give or appreciate. There is a kind of omnipotence in prayer; as having influence on Him who is Almighty. But why do I put you in mind of this ? Not because I would have you inflate yourselves with pride ; but because I remember that the spirit of prayer is altogether benevolent. Its power is unto the destruction of nothing but sin and its fruits. Its power hath the same scope and aim with that Glorious Being on whom it depends. Pure prayer's first accents are, “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”' Faithful brethren, men of prayer; men who have power with God, forget not, I beseech you, what, by means of prayer, you are capable of accomplishing. The world's conversion hath not yet been achieved. Means, with that great end in purpose, have been long in operation, and have recently been much increased. What those means are, you know; and their powerlessness, independently of God's blessing, you also know. I remind you again of your privilege, as endued with the spirit of grace and supplication. For Zion's sake, then, hold not your peace, for Jerusalem's sake rest not, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. There is neither dulness in the ear nor weariness in the arm of God. Both almighty strength and boundless mercy are awake and alert, to make full and swift return to any righteous man's effectual fervent supplication. And the divine glory is still pledged to make the dominion of truth and grace universal and complete : Of the prophecies promising that triumph, not a jot or tittle can fail to be fulfilled ; unless God can cease to be God, or the scriptures cease to be his word. And the souls of men have not become less excellent than when Christ counted not his blood too precious to be given for their ransom: Nor are they less liable to be lost, or liable to less than an everlasting perdition. And shall the knees of the saints be soon wearied, and the breath of their prayers be stifled ? Oh, let them lift up their hands, and pour forth their cries, till they cease to have their dwelling in the land of prayer.