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Prayer is the celestial herald which proclaims in heaven the sincerity of our fealty. It is the winged messenger which bears our aspirations to that Mercy-seat where they are chronicled “in the book of God's remembrance,” as passports of admission into the kingdom of his joy. The angels, soaring upon untired wings amid the beatitudes of the eternal paradise, blessed in their own purity, and rejoicing in the perfect spirituality of their being, look down from their bright abode, of which the divine presence is at once the light and the glory, and listen with transport to the prayers of the righteous. While these ascend as a welcome memorial before God, they “ rejoice with a joy unspeakable and glorified.” Prayer is to the soul what arterial blood is to the body; it quickens and preserves it alive. Without this vivifying, this spiritualizing, principle, it would be “dead in trespasses and sins."
But let us ascertain more particularly what prayer is; for as it must be a principle of no ordinary ascendency to be attended with such transcendant issues, it cannot be availably exercised but by such as feel, and truly appreciate, its influence, and at the same time practically illustrate by the purity of their lives their right understanding of its efficacy. Prayer is the mode of communion between the creature and his Creator. It is the soul's affiance poured out
upon the lips. It is the heart's tribute of praise perfumed by the breath of piety; the lowly supplication of a contrite sinner, confiding in his Saviour's mercy. No audience is ever vouchsafed by the Supreme of heaven and earth but
by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving.” It is natural to dependant beings to supplicate ; it is the exclusive and inherent privilege of Omnipotence to grant. Prayer then cannot be the mere feverish ebullition of a distempered spirit: it is not the flippant repetition of a few set forms, hastily hurried over as if the obligation were a penalty ; not a languid confession of sins which are neither repented of nor forsaken; not a periodical task of ceremonial observance. No; it is the offering of a contrite heart on the altar of penitence; it is the oblation of a regenerate soul at the shrine of holy love; it is the outpouring of a grateful bosom for benefits received and for mercies undeserved. When sinners feel thus deeply their forlorn and dependant state, when they are fully alive to the necessity of an absorbing trust in Hirn who can alone bring them through the dark valley of the shadow of death” to “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away,” “ their voices are heard, and their prayers come up to his holy dwelling place, even to heaven.”
But how different is God's reception of those verbal offerings which only pollute the lips, when
the heart gives no responsive throb, but turns to the bright things of the present, and leaves the tongue to do a perverted duty which can only provoke His eternal condemnation. How can such a Christian look for the intercession of Him who has become “ a mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, the righteous,” when he treats with such hypocritical pretension and truly sinister irreverence the merciful expiation made for him by that august Being ? How can such a Christian look for salvation through a crucified Saviour when he “hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace ?" The prayer indeed of the righteous "availeth much-:" it is the Lord's delight; but" he that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." We are therefore to bear in mind that however the Almighty is pleased with the supplications of those who "call upon him faithfully,” the mere circumstance of offering up our prayers to him will avail us nothing, if they do not carry with them that spirituality of they can receive only when they are imbued with a pure leaven of piety communicated direct from the soul. You may as well remain at home as come to the Lord's temple, if while you are here, under pretence of ministering unto him with a holy worship, you allow your thoughts to wander to the concerns of the world, or your senses to be lapped in the slumber of indifference. The “ eye service” spoken of by the Apostle cannot please God, however it may please men; for“ man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart," where he sees that such services have no sincerity.
The complaint of the Almighty in the text is that his people have not cried unto him with their heart." We know that the Jewish ceremonial worship was one that demanded the most scrupulous observance; and the temporal punishment was extremely severe with which they were visited who showed the least remissness in performing its numerous rites. In many instances death was the infliction consequent upon a violation of the ceremonial law; and yet, with all this strictness of regard to the severe discipline of a worship, the most arduous and multifarious in its forms and obligations, we find that the homage offered by the Jews unto God was by no means acceptable to him. And why? “Because they did not cry unto him with their heart.” “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil ?” Such and similar offerings are “a trouble unto him, he is weary to bear them.” But how fondly does he listen to the cries of the contrite, who exclaim, with the assurance of an accepted penitence, “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for
the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." These are the penitents whose cries are heard in heaven. “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance."
It is obvious from numberless passages in Holy Writ, that no worship which is not grounded in the soul will be acceptable to the Deity. Do we esteem the highest praises or the warmest professions of men any longer than while we imagine them to be sincere ? Do we not despise the hypocrite who says, and does not? Do we not look upon him with distrust ? Do we not suspect the sincerity of his declarations of attachment? Do we value human friendships but only so far as we believe them to be rooted in the heart? We cannot surely then imagine for a moment that God will accept such offerings as we should repudiate. And it is the more strange that we should offer to him such unacceptable services, when we know that from him no secrets are hid, and that therefore he detects our insincerity at a single glance.
How many are there who never cry unto the Lord but when sickness overtakes them,and then, to adopt the expressive language of the prophet, they “ howl upon their beds.” Then may be heard the accents of their despair, “ Lord, save us, we perish." Awful indeed is it to re