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THE PROPER DESIGN AND ENERGY OF PRAYER.
GENESIS xxxii, 28. For as a prince hast thou power with God and with
men, and hast prevailed. THOUGH all christians agree in maintaining the duty of prayer; yet many find a difficulty in reconciling this duty with the divine character. They suppose God is perfectly good, infinitely wise, and absolutely immutable in all his purposes; and upon this ground, they cannot easily conceive what influence prayer can have, either to procure his favors, or to avert his frowns. It is the design of the ensuing discourse, therefore, to remove this difficulty, by pointing out the nature and tendency of prayer. And the words I have read, taken in their proper connexion, directly lead us to the considération of this serious and practical subject.
As Jacob was returning from Padan-Aram to his native country, he sent messengers to his brother Esau, to acquaint him with his intended visit, and to concil. iate his favor. But the messengers brought back information, that his brother was on his way to meet him, with four hundred men. This news was extremely alarming to Jacob, who knew his brother's resentment, and his own weakness. In this critical situation, he acted the part of a pious and prudent man. He first attempted to appease his brother's wrath, by a noble and princely present. But lest this precaution should fail of success, he ordered his servants to conduct his family and flocks over the brook Jabbok, whilst he himself remained alone, to supplicate the divine favor and protection. At this season of solitude and devotion, he wrestled with God and prevailed. The account is extremely solemn and instructive. “And Jacob was left alone: and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh: and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh: and he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? and he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Here it is very evident, that Jacob wrestled with a Divine Person: and that his wrestling principally or wholly consisted, in pleading and crying for mercy. So we find it represented by the prophet Hosea. “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him.” The sincerity, fervency, and importunity of his prayers, moved God to hear and answer his requests. Both the letter and spirit of the text suggest this general observation:
That it is the design of prayer to move God to bestow mercy,
This will appear, if we consider,
1. That prayer properly and essentially consists in pleading. Though it may be divided into distinct parts or branches; yet all these ultimately unite and centre in supplication. In adoration, confession, petition, and thanksgiving, we ultimately plead for divine mercy, : When we petition our fellow men, we
always mean to move them to grant our requests. And in order to prevail, it is common to make use of various modes of supplication or pleading. This is the method, which a penitent child would take, to obtain the forfeited favor of his father. He would acknowledge the rectitude of his father's government; he would confess the injury he had done to his father's character; he would thank him for his past favors; and pathetically plead for his forgiving love. He would naturally employ all these modes of address, in order to move his father to pardon his faults. So when we praise God for his perfections, thank him for his mercies, confess our trespasses against him, and present our petitions to him, we do all this with an ula' timate aim to move his heart, and obtain the blessings we implore. Indeed, we never supplicate any being without an ultimate intention of prevailing upon him, to do or grant what we desire. And any address, which does not express or imply a design of moving the person addressed, cannot deserve the name of petition or prayer.
So far, therefore, as prayer signifies “the offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will,” just so far it necessarily implies our design and desire of moving God to bestow the favors we request. There are no two words in our language more nearly synonymous, than praying and pleading. And since praying always implies pleading, it must necessarily imply a desire and design of moving God to shew mercy.
2. It appears from the prayers of good men, which are recorded in Scripture, that they meant to move God to grant their petitions. Abraham's intercession for Sodom carries this idea. He earnestly desired and prayed, that God would graciously spare that degenerate city. And he was so fervent and importunate in his addresses to the Deity, that he apologized for his importunity. “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak.” And he continued to apologize, until he made his last and smallest request. “Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but this once." Such great importunity in prayer plainly supposes, that Abraham meant to move the Supreme Being to spare those guilty creatures, for whom he intreated. Jacob wrestled all night with God in prayer, and humbly, though confidently, said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." We must conclude from this, that he meant to move God to grant him a blessing. Job had the same design in praying to God. *Oh! said he, that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my speech before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.” And what a variety of arguments did Daniel use, to prevail upon God to grant pardon and deliverance to his covenant people? He prayed in this fervent and importunate strain: “Now, therefore, O my God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake: O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, bearken, and do; defer not, for thy name šake, O my God; for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” Why should Daniel use so many arguments with God; and plead with so much fervor and importunity, unless he desired and intended to move his compassion towards his people, and incline him to work their deliverance? No men ever understood the nature and design of prayer,
better than Abraham, Job, and Daniel. And since these eminent saints evidently meant, by their fervent and importunate supplications, to move God to shew mercy, we may justly conclude this to be a proper end to be proposed in praying. Indeed, it is much to be doubted, whether any good men ever did call upon God with freedom and fervency, without an ardent desire of moving God to grant their requests. This is so essential to prayer, that no pious person, perhaps, would know how to order his speech before God, if this were to be excluded from his petitions. And though some good men may think, that they ought not to indulge a desire of moving God to shew mercy; yet, we believe, if they would examine their own feelings, they would find, that they never have been able to pray in sincerity, without indulging and expressing such a reasonable desire.
3. The friends of God are urged to pray, with fervency and importunity, in order to move the divine compassion. This seems to be the spirit of the Prophet's exhortation to the saints in his day. “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence: and give him no rest till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” God is pleased to represent himself as greatly influenced, by the prayers of good men. To them he says, “Concerning my sons, and concerning my daughters, command ye me." Again he says, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be towards this people.” And he conveys the same idea in stronger terms still. “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in the land, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters, but only themselves.” These modes of expression clearly and forci. bly express the prevailing influence of prayer upon the heart of the Deity. Christ likewise illustrates and in