should acknowledge that we do so, by asking of him. It is a high privilege, that we are permitted to approach the Father of all things, and have access to the throne of supreme glory. It is, in the natural consequence of the thing itself, a means of promoting the practice of virtue, by putting the mind habitually into good temper and frame: and it is moreover, by the appointment of God, a condition requisite in order to obtain his blessing upon our endeavours; because he has promised, that he will be nigh unto all them that call upon him, yea, unto all them that call upon him faithfully;' that he will fulfil the desire of them that fear him,' that he will also hear their cry and will help them.' [Psalm cxlv. 18.] Which promise our Saviour confirms by a most affectionate comparison, when he argues, from the love of a father toward his children, how much more ready God is to assist those who worthily apply to him: Ask, saith he, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find:-If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.' [Luke xi. 9.]

The reasonableness and necessity of the duty of prayer in general, being thus apparent both in scripture and in the nature of the thing itself; I shall, in the following discourse, for our more particular instruction in so important a duty of religion, consider distinctly, 1st, The object of prayer, or the person to whom it is to be directed; 2dly, The things proper to be prayed for; and, 3dly, The circumstances or qualifications necessary to make the person who prays, and the petitions which he puts up, acceptable before God.

I. First, the object of prayer, or the person to whom prayers are to be directed, is God. Unto thee, O God, shall the vow be performed; thou that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.' [Psalm lxv. 1.] This is the obvious voice of nature; that application should be made by all creatures, for a continual supply of all their wants, to the supreme Father and Governor of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all ;' or, as the scripture in another place with no less elegancy expresses it, of whom and through whom and to whom are all

things.' This is the first and great commandment, in naturê as well as in revelation. And it is very observable, as St. Paul at large demonstrates in the first chapter to the Romans, that in proportion as the heathen world departed from this original and natural worship of the Maker of all things, to the feigning for themselves a multitude of gods; so did the corruption of their manners likewise increase in all other instances of immorality, till they were given over to a reprobate mind, to work all unrighteousness with greediness.' The foundation of prayer is laid in the attributes of God; and every perfection of his nature affords a distinct ground or reason for our applying ourselves in this manner to him. His omnipresence teaches us, that he is ever near; his omniscience, that he always knows our petitions; his omnipotence, that he is able to grant them; his goodness, that he is willing to give us whatever is for our real benefit and advantage; his truth, that he will not fail to perform all his gracious promises; and his mercy, that he will not reject even sinners when truly penitent, but will hear and forgive them upon their sincere humiliation and amendinent. Thus all the attributes of God afford so many several reasons, and distinct motives or arguments, to encourage us in the duty of prayer to him. And lest it be alleged, that frail and sinful men cannot of themselves acceptably approach the supreme throne of God, we have, by divine appointment, a sufficient Mediator and Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righ teous,' who sitteth continually on the right hand of God, as our great High-priest and Intercessor, to mediate for us, and to offer up our prayers unto the Father. Through him alone we all have an access,' as St. Paul expresses it, by one spirit unto the Father' [Eph. ii. 18.]; and our Lord's own direction is, Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he will give it you.' And, when we pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven' and again, The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.' [John xv. 16.] This therefore is the direction the scripture gives us, concerning the object of prayer; that prayer is to be directed to God through Christ.

[ocr errors]

II. Secondly, I proposed to consider the things that are proper to be prayed for. And here, all the advice that can be given, is, in general, that men consider, according to the best of their abilities, what is suitable to the nature of God to give,

and proper for them to ask. We are to pray for every thing that is good, and against every thing that is evil; for ourselves and for others; for all mankind; even for those that are our enemies, that God would convert them, and bring them finally to salvation. We are to pray for the forgiveness of past sins; and that we may be preserved from such as we might fall into for the future. In a word, for a competent measure of all the good things of the present life, and above all things, that we fall not short of the happiness of that to come.

The method our Saviour has laid down in the form of his own composing, is the best direction in this case. He teaches us to pray, in the first place, that the honour and kingdom of God may be advanced among men, by the practice of virtue, and by our obedience to his will: according to the direction he elsewhere gives, that we should first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and that then all other things should be added unto us.' That which to every good man cannot but be first and principal in the desire of his heart, (namely, the im provement of himself and others in true religion,) ought also to be, and naturally will be, the primary subject of his prayers. Some devout persons have, in this matter, run into the contrary extreme; and because we are indeed weak and dependent creatures, and can do nothing without the divine assistance, therefore they have supposed and taught, that men can do nothing at all for themselves as to any religious improvement, but must rely wholly upon God to do every thing for them and in them: not considering that spiritual abilities are derived from God, and depend on him, just in the same manner as all natural powers and faculties do; in which it is evident God does not act for us, but gives us power to act for ourselves; and therefore in spiritual matters, likewise, God so gives us to will and to do, as that by his giving us those powers, we are obliged therewith to work out our own salvation. For a continual supply therefore of these powers, and for the assistance of the Divine Spirit in the use of them, we are bound to pray; and we cannot innocently want them, because God has promised that he will give his Holy Spirit to them that sincerely ask him.

Next, after these spiritual blessings, our Saviour directs us to pray for our daily bread;' for the necessaries and conveniencies of this temporal life: to show us, that his religion does not teach men to neglect the world wholly, and to be useless in it; but only not to abuse it by sensuality and debauchery.

And because we are subject to daily infirmities, he teaches us, in the next place, to pray daily for the 'forgiveness of our sins: in which part of our petitions, sincere minds ought to take care, that we pray not in mere form for the forgiveness of sins equally, which we have or have not committed; but that we really desire to amend those faults, which we particularly pray to have forgiven.

Lastly, Because no man knows his own strength for the future, our Lord directs us to pray that we may escape great temptations, and that we fall not under the power of the Evil One.

These are the best directions that can be given, concerning the matter or things to be prayed for: which directions being of necessity no other than general, are and must be left to be diversified in particular, according to every man's own sense of his private and personal wants.

III. The third and last thing I proposed, was to consider the circumstances or qualifications necessary to make the person who prays, and the petitions which he puts up, acceptable before God.


[ocr errors]

1st, All prayer must be accompanied with attention of mind. This our Saviour expresses by that variation of phrase, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.' [Matt. vii. 7.] Where the heart and mind go not along with the mouth, prayer is but an empty form; and the expression of the prophet may justly be applied: This people draws near me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.' Such persons have no reason, and indeed seem not much to expect, that their prayers should be heard: 'but the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. [James v. 16.]


2dly, Prayers must be put up with constancy, importunity, and perseverance. Pray,' says the apostle, without ceasing." [1 Thess. v. 17.] And our Saviour spake two parables; one concerning a man persuaded by his friend's importunity, to rise in the night, and lend him what he wanted; and the other con cerning an unjust judge, prevailed upon by the importunity of a poor widow, to do her justice: these two parables, says the evangelist, spake Jesus, to the end that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.' [Luke xviii. 1; and xi. 5.] The meaning is, not that men are to spend their whole time in



prayers, which is the monkish superstition; or that enthusiasts, who pride themselves in the length of their prayers, shall be heard the better for their much speaking; but that it is needful for men, by constant and periodical returns of prayer, to keep up in their minds a continual sense of God, and of their dependance upon him.

3dly, Prayer must always be with submission to the will of God. Our judgements are very weak and fallible; and we often know not what will hurt or profit us. The things therefore which we most earnestly desire, and which we may very lawfully pray for, yet ought always to be submitted to the infinite wisdom and good pleasure of God. We know not,' saith St. Paul, what we should pray for as we ought' [Rom. viii. 26.]; and, Ye know not what ye ask' [Matt. xx. 22.], saith our Lord to two of his apostles. And he himself has set us an example beyond all exception: Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.' [Luke xxii. 42.]

4thly, Prayers must be put up with steady faith toward God. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.' [James i. 6.] And what things soever,' saith our Saviour, ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.' It must be observed, that this remarkable promise is made expressly concerning the gifts of miracles; concerning removing a mountain, and casting it into the sea;' as it is in the verse before; and must not be applied to any other persons or things, but where that singular gift was expressly promised. In other cases, and times, the faith toward God, which is requisite in prayer, must be understood, in proportion, to be, not a vain enthusiastical presumption, of being sure to obtain whatever we desire, (of which no promise was ever made us,) but a rational persuasion, and firm belief, that God is able to perform what- ̃ ever he wills, and willing to do for us whatever is really fit and reasonable. The greatest objection that vain men have ever made in this case against the faith I am speaking of, is, that things seem regularly to proceed in the course of nature, and according to the efficiency of second causes; and that therefore, What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?' [Job xxi. 15.] But the answer is plain, that second causes are nothing more than instruments in the hand of the first cause. For though

« ElőzőTovább »