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Accordingly, his prayers were heard, and always heard. This example, also, has the entire force of a command, and is invested with divine authority. If, then, we obey and follow him in this great duty; we shall do that, which is right in the sight of God, as he did ; shall be accepted for his sake, as he was accepted; and shall be rewarded and blessed as he was.
In these things, thus combined, there is plainly all possible 'encouragement to pray, and to continue steadfast in prayer. The Father of all mercies regards us in this institution as his children; prepares us by this duty most happily to realize his character as the Gider of every good and perfect gift; and fits us in the best manner also to receive his blessings, when they are bestowed. He forms us to the spirit and conduct of children ; and is Himself ready to give good things of all kinds to us, when we thus ask him. In our petitions, we learn the nature and value of his blessings ; our owo absolute need of them; and his unspeakable goodness in furnishing them for our enjoyment. We learn to depend on him ; to trust in him; and to exercise towards him unceasing love, rev. erence, gratitude, and praise. At the same time, we are assured, that we shall never ask' in vain.
2. From these considerations I urge, anew, the folly, and sin, of those, who neglect prayer.
Prayer is the avenue to all good, temporal and eternal; and to us the only avenue. He who will not pray, therefore, shuts 'up the only passage, which has been opened for him by God to the attainment of happiness. It may be alleged here, but it will be alleged to no purpose, that multitudes, who do not pray, are as prosperous as those, who do. An or is pampered, but it is only for the slaughler. The enjoyments of this life are never blessings to him, that does not pray. If they are merely means of luxury, bardness of heart, and grossness of life, he, who enjoys them, will only treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. On the part of God, indeed, they are always kindly given; but on the part of the recipient, they are regularly abused by being made incentives to sin. They are, therefore, curses to him by his own perversion; and are styled blessings, only by an abuse of language.
Without prayer there is no virtue; no piety; no obedience to God. The commencement of piety in Saul of Tarsus, was thus announced by the Holy Ghost: Behold he prayeth. But without piety there is no blossing reserved for man. He may, indeed, be ricb, and great, and luxurious ; may be clothed in purple and fine linen; 'and may fare sumptuously every day. Such was the condition of the rich man in the parable. But at the end of a short life, he lifted up his eyes 'in hell, being in torment; and found, that he had received all his good things in this life.
What excuse, then, can be devised for the neglect of prayer ? 'ls ta hard service? Be it'so. Te pot tko rotard sufficiently great
to retribute the toil? Good in hand, of every kind which is real and desirable, and good to come inestimable and endless, are certainly deserving of any labour, or suffering, which men can undergo. However severe may be the labour of performing the duty, the compensation is certainly ample and complete.
But is it more severe than the daily toil of laborious men? This you yourselves see cheerfully undergone, merely for the common gains of avarice, by millions, who do not, and cannot know, that those gains will be good at all. To every sincere suppliant all things work together for good. How vast the difference in these rewards!
Is it harder than profane swearing and cursing? In them, as in prayer, all the labour which exists, exists only in the utterance of words : and multitudes in these evil practises expend much more time, and breath, than is demanded in prayer. All these, also, labour in vain, and spend their strength for nought. Nay, what is infinitely worse, they labour only to be poor, and wreiched, and miserable.
But is it hard at all? Is it a hard condition, for the attainment of all good, to ask it; and, above all things, to ask it of the infinitely blessed and bountiful God?
It has been, and undoubtedly will be again, objected by multitudes, some of them probably in this audience, that they cannot pray. Let me ask those, who make this objection, have you tried ? tried, I mean, in earnest? You will be obliged to answer in the negative. You have never seriously attempted to perform this duty. Whence then do you know, that you cannot pray? How do you know, that God will not willingly do for you whatever you find it impossible, or difficuli, to do for yourselves ? He is infinitely willing to give, in answer to your prayers. Whence have you learned, that he is not equally willing to befriend you in your attempts to pray?
The truth is, you do not choose to make such attempts. You have wants endlessly numerous, and incalculably important. They might be supplied: but you will not ask God to supply them. You have souls of infinite value. They might be saved:
you will not ask God to save them. You ate sinners, and exposed to perdition. From these tremendous evils you might be delivered: but will not ask God to deliver you. You are made candidates for Heaven; and might be received into that glorious world of everlasting joy. Rather than pray, you choose to perish.
All blessings are opened for your enjoyment. The condition on which you may obiain them all, is to ask. No sacrifice, expense, or loss, is demanded of you. None will be incurred. On the contrary, praying is in itself unspeakable gain, and solid pleasure; higher, more rational, more unmingled pleasure, than you ever found, or ever will find, in sin. The condition, there
fore, is a gainful condition of a reward without bounds, and without end. What, then, is your conduct, but supreme and unmingled folly ?
Fools, saith Solomon, despise wisdom and instruction, and hate knowledge. This wisdom, of supreme import, has been taught to you a thousand times. Hitherto you have despised and hated it. The evil of neglecting prayer has been often urged on you; but hitherto it has been urged in vain. Hitherto you have deceived yourselves with the folly of believing, that God will bless you, while you refuse to pray 10 him: in other words, that he will bless you, in direct contradiction to his own express declarations. What specimen of folly can be greater! That you should be thus deceived, with your present character, is not strange : since the Scriptures inform us, that it is the nature of folly to be deceitful. That you should think yourselves right in these views, and in the conduct which grows out of them, is as little strange : for, persons of this character, according to the same divine testimony, usually think themselves right. But let me remind you from the same sacred book, that Fools die for want of wisdom. In your present course, you are in the road to death. For want of wisdom, only, do you continue in it a single day. Should the same folly be prolonged: the period is not distant, when you will die for ever.
MEANS OF GRACE.-THE OBJECTIONS TO PRAYER
Job xxi. 15.-What is the Almighly, that we should serve him ; and what profit shall
we have, if we pray unto him
THE five first subjects, originally proposed as themes of discourse concerning the duty of prayer, have been examined at length in the four preceding Sermons. The sixth, viz. Objections against this duty, will now occupy our attention.
In the Text, a general objection is made against all obedience to God; and is professedly founded on his character. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? There is nothing in the character of God, nor in our relation to him, which requires our obedience to his will. We are neither obliged by any duty, nor drawn by any interest, to his service. This impious sentiment is exhibited in the context as the sentiment of abandoned men only; and is plainly of a nature too impious to be uttered by any other. The following one, proceeding from the same mouth also, is with perfect propriety exhibited to us as resulting from the same spirit. Yet there are multitudes, who are far from deserving the character of profligacy, who yet say concerning God, What profit shall have, if we pray to him? This objection, it will be observed, is an universal one. What profit shall we have? that is, we shall not be profited at all, either in our minds, or in our circumstances. We shall not be profited by the proper influence of prayer on ourselves, nor by its efficacy in procuring blessings from God. All objections against prayer may be justly regarded as being summed up in this single question.
It cannot, however, be expected, that on this occasion every objection, which an irreligious mind can devise against this duty, will be taken up, and refuted. Several such objections have been anticipated in the preceding discourses. Of such as remain, I shall examine those only, which may be supposed to have some real weight in the mind of a sober man. These, so far as I recollect them, respect the
I shall consider them in their order.
The two first of these subjects are commonly united in the scheme of the objector: and may, therefore, with propriety, be here considered together. If God be a changeable being; although he may have predetermined all things, yet he may be supposed to alter his plans in consequence of requests, presented to him by his Intelligent creatures; and may, therefore, be addressed as a changeable being. On the other hand, if God be immutable, and yet have formed no system of things in his own mind; he may, perhaps, constitute his designs, from time to time, with some degree of conformity to their supplications.
The first objection, which I shall mention, and which is derived from these sources, is usually stated in terms like the following:
Prayer is fruitless, or in the language of the Text, unprofitable, because all things are determined from everlasting by an immutable God, and will, therefore, take place according to his determination. Hence our prayers, making no alteration in any thing, must be an idle, perhaps an impious, service: idle, because they can effect nothing; impious, because they are expressions of our desires for blessings, which God has not chosen to give. If God bas determined to give us these blessings; we shall receive them without prayer. If he has determined not to give them, we shall not receive them, however fervently we may pray. So far, then, as we pray for things, which God has determined to give, our prayers are useless. So far as we pray for those, which he has determined not to give, our prayers are directly opposed to his pleasure.”
I have endeavoured to state this objection at full length, because I wish to present it with all the force, which it has, or can have, in the mind of the objector. To the several things, contained in it, I answer,
1. There cannot possibly be any impity in prayer, offered up in the manner stated in these discourses.
The original definition, which I gave of prayer, and with which all the subsequent accounts of it have accorded, is that of the Westminster Assembly of Divines: That prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will. To desire that, and that only, which is agrecable to the will of God, cannot be impious. Evangelical prayer supposes in its very nature, that we ask either for those things for which the Scriptures have expressly permitted us to pray; or for those which we professedly submit to his will in our petitions. In this conduct, impiety cannot exist. On the contrary, no human being was ever the subject of piety, who did not pursue this conduct.
The objection is now reduced to a single article ; viz. The fruil. lessness of prayer; or its inefficacy to change the purposes of God, and therefore to procure blessings. To this I answer,