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TEL ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE. THE NATURE, SEASONS, AND
OBLIGATIONS OF PRAYER.
1 THESSALONIANS v. 17.-Pray without ceasing.
THE preceding discourse was occupied by considerations on the two first of those Means of Grace, which were formerly meritioned ; viz. The Preaching and Hearing of the Gospel, and the Reading of the Scriptures and other Religious Books. I shall now proceed to the examination of the third of those Means ; viz. Prayer.
In this examination I shall depart from the scheme, which was pursued in the preceding discourse; and shall consider the subject generally ; under the following heads :
1. The Nature, and
Prayer, according to the language of the Westminster Catechism, is the Offering up of our desires to God
for things agreeable to his Will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and a thankful acknowledgment of his mercies. This definition is undoubtedly just. Yet it is in a degree defective. Prayer is an act of worship, consisting of four great parts; Adoration, Confession, Petition, and Thanksgiving
The first of these, Adoration, consists in solemnly reciting the character of God; and in reverentially ascribing to him the glory, due to his name for the infinite perfections, which he possess. es, and for all the manifestations, which he has made of himsell in his Word, and in his works.
The second, Confession, demands no comment.
The third, Petition, is both by reason and Revelation confined to things, which are agreeable to the Will of God. His Will in volves whatever is right, and good : and nothing, which is no agreeable to it, is in reality desirable.
Thanksgiving, the last of these subjects, is so generally, ane so well, understood, as to need no explanation at the present time.
All these are to be offered up to God in the name of Christ, in obedience to his express command. Unless they are so offered, they cannot, under the Christian dispensation, be accepted.
il. The principal Seasons of Prayer are the following. 1. The Sabbath.
On this holy Day, we are required to devote ourselves to this luty in a peculiar manner. A prime part of the religious service, to which it is destined, consists of Prayer. For this reason, the sanctuary is appropriately styled the house of prayer. Thus God says in Isaiah, I will make them joyful in my house of prayer; and again, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. These promises immediately respect Christian nations; and teach in the clearest manner the proper destination of the house of God, and of the day, upon which, especially, it is occupied by religious assemblies. The Jewish Church worshipped in this manner on their Sabbath ; and the primitive Christian Church on the Lord's Day. These examples have been followed, in every age of Christianity, by those, who, in any country, have worn the Christian name.
Nor is the Sabbath a season of public prayer only. It is equal. ly to be employed in private prayer. On this sacred day, God has required a peculiar attention to all our religious duties ; at home, as well as in the Sanctuary. Every advantage for this purpose is furnished by this heavenly season. The consecration of this holy day by the Fourth Command, by his own resting upon
the first Sabbath, and by the Resurrection of the Redeemer; the celebration of it by the Church in all the ages of time; the blessing, originally annexed to it; and the sanctification, acquired, and increased, in the minds of many millions of the human race, all unite to designate it as being pre-eminently the season of prayer. With these affecting views of the Sabbath, all others conspire. On this day, mankind assemble in the house of God as brethren, and as children of the same Divine Parent, to worship their Creator; to learn his holy Will; and to obtain a title to endless life. Here, with one united voice they confess their sins before him. Hither they come, to acknowledge their dependance on him for the communication of every blessing, and the fulfilment of every hope. Here, they stand as mere suppliants for mercy; for the forgiveness of their sins, and the renovation of their souls. Hither they come, to be employed only in religious thoughts, affections, and pursuits; to act as spiritual and immortal beings; and to appear as candidates for everlasting life. Here, the word of God is presented to them as a Law, immutable and eternal, which they have violated, and by which they are condemned; as the news, and means, of restoration to safety, hope, and life; as the manifestation of his character, and our own; and as the tidings of a ature resurrection, judgment, and immortality. Hither they come, on this sacred day, into the inmediate presence of God, as the
reconcileable Father of mankind ; infinitely great, venerable, and lovely, in his character. Here, they behold the Saviour in all his peculiar glory and beauty, his transcendent compassion and selfdenial. His condescension and humiliation, his preaching and miracles, his sufferings and death, his resurrection and exaltation, are here presented in his Word and Ordinances, pencilled by the hand of JEHOVAH.
This holy season is the day, appointed by God himself, as a perpetual Festival, for the commemoratior, of these glorious things; especially of the Creation and Redemption of mankind; and of the Divine perfections, manifested in these wonderful works. As such a festival it is regarded, and acknowledged, by all, who assemble for his worship.
To all these things, the strong power of sympathy lends an interest, a solemnity, a capacity for affecting the soul, unrivalled in its nature, and attainable in no other situation.
As on the Sabbath these things are eminently felt in the House of God; so the spirit, imbibed here, is extended to every thing of the same nature, when contemplated in our own dwellings. Thith. er we carry the feelings, originated in the sanctuary; and there we prolong the views, which the Sabbath has already inspired. In both places, therefore, we are mished with advantages for praying fervently, and acceptably, althis happy season, which obviously make the Sabbath, ky way of distinction, the Day of Prayer.
2. Such Occasion:! Days, as are warranted by the Word of God; and appointed by the rulers of mankind for public worship, are, also, important seasons of Prayer.
Public annual Festivals for national thanksgiving, and public days of national humiliation and prayer, were enjoined by God upon the Israelites; the only nation, to whom, as such, he ever gave laws and institutions. The institutions and laws of Moses are binding on us no farther, than as they are applicable to our circumstances. Political and ceremonial branches of this system are not, and cannot be, applicable to the state of any modern, or Christian, nation. They are, therefore, abrogated; as we are amply assured in the Scriptures themselves. But these national thanksgivings, and fasts, are no less applicable to the state of other nations, than to that of the Israelites. For all nations equally with them, have sins to be confessed and lamented, and blessings to be remembered and acknowledged. God, also, has been pleased to regard, in a favourable and merciful manner, public fasts, not directly appointed by himself. Thus when the Ninevites, alarmed by the prediction of Jonah, kept a day of solemn humiliation and fasting for their sins, God repented of the evil, that he said he would do unto them; and he did it not. In consequence of the fast, also, of the Jews in Shushan, on account of the ruin, threatened to their nation by the malicious fraud of Haman, God accomplished their deliverance in a manner equally wonderful and
glorious. Important blessings seem also to have been given, in consequence of the fasts, proclaimed severally by Ezra and Nehemiah. The public services of these days are usually the same with those of the Sabbath. Prayer, particularly, is a prime part of them all. On such days the ancient Churches assemble to acknowledge the goodness of God to them, and to confess and lament their sins against him. In these religious solemnities, they have been followed extensively by the Church in later times.
3. The Morning and Evening of every day, are in a peculiar mannict seasons of Prayer.
This truth was taught directly by the morning and evening sacrifice, under the Mosaic dispensation. Aaron, and the succeed. ing High Priests, were commanded, Exod. xxx. 7, to burn incense on the altar of incense every morning. See aiso Exod. xxxvi. 3; Exod. xl. ; Levit. vi. 12. In like manner the evening sacrifice and oblation are often mentioned; as in 1 Kings xviii. 29; 2 Kings Ivi. 15; Ezra. ix. 4; and Dan. ix. 21.
In conformity to the language of this institution, David declares, that he steadily performed this religious duty every morning and every evening, and also at noon every day. Daniel prayed to his God three times a day. Job also offered sacrifice in the morning. In the same manner, unquestionably, worshipped all the pious men of ancient times.
With the Scriptures, the Nature of the case perfectly, accords. lo the Morning, we are solemnly called upon to remember the protection, which God has extended to us through the night: a season, in which we were wholly unable to protect ourselves. We are required to recollect also, that he has graciously given us the blessing of sleep, and the peace and safety, with which we have rested upon our beds. He, who does not praise God for these indispensable gifts, must be alike ungrateful and stupid.
In the Morning, also, we are about to enter upon the business of the day, and stand, therefore, in absolute need of the Divine protection, favour, and blessing. How wretched should we be, and how useless, unless our food and raiment, our health, and strength, our reason and all our other useful faculties, were continued in our possession! Equally do we need security against temptation and sin, danger and harm. But for all these we are entirely dependent on God alone.
In the evening, we are solemnly obligated to remember with the deepest gratitude the blessings of the day. These are the blessings which we supplicated in the morning; and which God has been pleased to bestow upon us, notwithstanding our sins. In the Evening, also, we are about to lay ourselves down to sleep. Beside Him, we have no protector; and to Him we must be indebted both for the sleep itself, and for the peace and safety, without which it cannot be enjoyed. Vol. IV.
Stated and regular seasons are indispensable to the effectual performance of all business. Method, proverbially styled the soul of business, cannot exist without such seasons. Irregularity, which is the prevention, or the ruin, of all valuable efforts, grows of course out of irregular distributions of time. That, which is done at accidental seasons only, is ultimately not done at all. No business demands regularity, and method, more than Prayer. There is in all men, naturally, a strong indisposition to pray. Stated seasons, therefore, returning at regular periods, are pecul. iarly necessary to preserve this duty in its full rigour. He, who prays at such seasons, will always remember this duty; will form his schemes of life so as to provide the proper places for performing it; will be reproached by his conscience for neglecting it; will keep alive the spirit of prayer from one season to andther, so as to render the practice delightful; and will be preserved, uninterruptedly, in the practice, by the strong influence of habit. He, who prays at accidental seasons only, will first neglect, then hate, and finally desist from this duty.
The Morning and Evening are seasons peculiarly fitted for the regular returns
of prayer. They occur at intervals, perfectly convenient; terminate, successively, our sleep and our labour ; are seasons necessarily distinguished; remind us regularly of all that, for which we should pray; and are effectual means of establishing in us immoveable habits of praying. They involve every thing, therefore, which can be either asked, or wished, for this interesting purpose.
As these are seasons eminently advantageous for secret prayer; so they are almost the only possible seasons for the united devotion of Families. Then, and then only, are all the members customarily present. Then, the family business is either not begun, or ended; and all are at leisure to employ themselves in the worship of God. Strangers, then, do not intrude; and in this manner prevent the performance of the duty. Every thing, therefore, concurs at these seasons, to promote, and establish, the method, regu. larity, and habit, which, necessary always, are indispensable where numbers are concerned.
4. The times, at which we receive our food, are proper seasons of prayer.
On food we depend for the continuance of life; and, of course, for the enjoyment of all other temporal good. On this blessing, also, depends in the like manner the continuance of our probation; and, therefore, all our future spiritual good, so far as it will be gained in the present world. With this good, are inseparably connected, also, those immortal blessings, which God will communicate as its proper reward beyond the grave. Hence the communication of this blessing demands of us peculiar attention, gratitude, and acknowledgments.