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Before we dismiss this part of our collect, let us consider the character in which we present ourselves before the mercy-seat. We appear there professing ourselves to be God's “humble ser" vants.'
But are we indeed such? Are we the servants of God, devoted to His will, and desirous of His approbation and wages ? Are we truly humble? Emptied of self-righteousness? And is our dependance only on His mercy? The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the “Lord; but the prayer of the upright is His de
light.” “The Lord is far from the wicked; but “ He heareth the prayer of the righteous.” “He “ that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, “ even his prayer shall be abomination. " (Prov. xv. 8, 29, and xxviii. 9.) While we continue impenitent and unbelieving, we have no reason to expect that God will listen to our supplications, but rather that He will turn a deaf ear to them. (See Prov. i. 24–33.)
We proceed now to consider the second petition of our collect for direction in prayer. In order “ that His humble seryants may obtain
their petitions,” we beseech God that He would s make them to ask such things as shall please " Him."
The necessity of Divine direction in the exercise of prayer is strongly asserted by St. Paul: (Rom. viii. 26.) “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth
our infirmities; for we know not what we “should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit it“ self inaketh intercession for us with groanings “ which cannot be uttered.” As, without Divine direction and influence, we cannot ask those things which are pleasing in the sight of God; so neither can we reasonably expect to be heard and
answered. Our ignorance and our depravity prevent us from approaching the throne of grace in an acceptable manner. We are ignorant of our own spiritual wants, of the provision which is made for their supply, of the manner 'in which alone relief is to be obtained, and of the frame of mind which is essential to our success. We are so depraved, that pride, worldliness, and sensuality leave no room for the admission of spiritual blessings into our fallen hearts.
It is admitted that the desires of impenitent sinners which are not pleasing in the sight of God are sometimes granted. But then the Divine compliance with them is not to their advantage. Thus the request of the Israelites in the wilderness for flesh was granted ; but “while the flesh “ was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, “ the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the “people, and the Lord smote the people with a “ very great plague.” Thus also the prayer of the Israelites, when they besoi!ght a king, was answered; but it was answered in wrath. God has complied even with petitions preferred by the devil himself, as we find in the case of Job. (Ch. i. 12, and ii. 6, and Luke viii. 32.) It is also evident that the prayers of the Lord's people are not always answered in the specific time and
which they might expect; because, when they ask for such things as are not pleasing in the sight of God, a compliance with their requests would be injurious to their true interests. Thus Moses begged permission to pass over Jordan, and was refused : the sons of Zebedee asked for worldly elevation, and were denied-St. Paul for a reinoval of the thorn in the flesh, and was answered by the communication of a more suitable and valuable blessing
Prayer, in order that it may be acceptable, must be offered in a right manner, and have right objects in view. On this subject the remarks of the judicious Hooker are well worthy of being here transcribed. “ The prayers which our Lord and Saviour made, were for their own worthiness accepted ; ours God accepteth not but with this condition,* if they be joined with belief in Christ. The prayers of the just are accepted always; but not always those things granted for which they pray. For in prayer, if faith and assurance to obtain were both one and the same thing, seeing that the effect of not obtaining is a plain testimony that they which pray were not sure they should obtain ; it would follow, that their prayer being without certainty of the event, was also made unto God without faith, and consequently that God abhorred it. Which to think of so many prayers of saints as we find have failed in particular requests, how absurd were it? His faithful people have this comfort, that whatsoever they rightly ask, the same (no doubt, but) they shall receive, so far as may. stand with the glory of God, and their own everlasting good; unto either of which two it is no virtuous man's purpose to seek, or desire to obtain, any thing prejudicial; and therefore that clause which our Lord and Saviour in the prayer of His agony did express, we in petitions of like nature do always imply : “ Father, if it be possible,” if it may stand with thy will and pleasure. Or, if not, but that there be secret impediments and causes, in regard whereof the thing we pray for is denied us; yet the
prayer itself which we make is a pleasing * Oratio, quæ non fit per Christum, non solum non potest delere peccatum, sed etiam ipsa fit peccatum. Aug. Enar, i, in Psalm. cyiii,
sacrifice to God, who both accepteth and rewardeth it some other way. So that sinners in very truth are denied when they seem to prevail in their supplications, because it is not for their sakes, or to their good, that their suits take place; the faithful, contrariwise, because it is for their good that their petitions do not take place, prevail even when they most seem de
Let us exemplify the goodness of God in His non-compliance with requests made for things which are not pleasing to Him by a few common instances. An unconverted man asks for perpetual freedom from affliction, and for all the good things of time and sense, because he is acquainted with nothing that is more worthy of his solicitude. The result of a compliance with such a request is evident. It would deprive him of the usual means of conversion to God and of a preparation for glory. The awakened soul often implores a premature deliverance from the spirit of bondage under which he laboursthe believer for a premature removal of affliction, or a premature admission to heaven, or for incessant spiritual consolation. But if God were to grant the petitions of His own people in these and other instances, it would be to their detriment. We are like silly children who would gather their fruit before it is ripe and wholesome. It
may be asked, How may we know what is pleasing in the sight of God ?-By His word, and particularly by His promises and commands. Whatever He has promised, that we may safely implore : Whatever He has commanded, for the performance of that we may
* Hooker's Works, vol, i. p181.
safely seek His grace. “Thou hast commanded “ me to keep thy precepts, diligently. Othat
my ways were directed to keep thy statutes." (Ps. cxix. 4, 5.)
A distinction is to be made between temporal and spiritual blessings.
blessings. Temporal blessings should always be implored with a limitation. For we know not what is good for ourselves, nor what will be conducive to the glory of God; and the promotion of these must be our supreme object in drawing near to God. Spiritual blessings may be asked with less hesitation, because we know that it is the will of God, for His glory and our good, that they should be bestowed on His people. Nevertheless, even these, when specified, are to be asked with submission to the Divine will, as to the time, manner, and degree of their communication. Indeed, when we pray for increasing conformity to the Divine image, we cannot be too fervent or confident; “ for this is the will of God, even our sanctifica“ tion." But in imploring comfort we must leave the time, manner, and degree, to God.
The necessity of Divine teaching in prayer, and the consequent propriety of the request in our collect, have been already proved. It is necessary to inform our understanding, to correct our judgment, to give a due bias to our will, and a due tone to our affections.
We may rest assured that whatever will be subservient to our real good, God is willing to grant, and that therefore our petitions for it are pleasing to Him, and that whatever He withholds from His children would be detrimental to them. O what a blessed « confidence then is
this which we have in Him, that if we ask “any thing according to His will, He heareth