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I know that, whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever ; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God doth it, that men should fear before him. — Ec. üi. 14.
In the preceding discourse, the exercise of piety has been considered in a number of particulars. The last mentioned was devotion, and several things included in this have been considered. Another branch of devotion now requires our attention.
Petition is that part of devotion in which we, in our address to God, express our desires, or ask him to do or grant that which to us appears good and desirable. This requires a more particular consideration, as some have thought it not consistent with the doctrine of God's decrees, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass; because, according to this, every thing is fixed, and cannot be altered. It has been said there cannot be any reason or motive to pray, or make any petition, to an unchangeable God, whose design cannot be altered, and who has fixed all events, without a possibility of any change.
Before any attempt is made to remove this objection and supposed difficulty, it must be observed, that it equally lies against the foreknowledge of God. For if God certainly foreknows every thing that will take place, then every event is fixed and certain, otherwise it could not be foreknown. “ Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” He has determined, and passed an unchangeable decree, with respect to all he will do to eternity. Upon the plan of the objection under consideration, it may be asked, What reason or motive can any one have to ask God to do any thing for him, or any one else, since he infallibly knows from the beginning what he will do, and, therefore, it is unalterably fixed? Therefore, if it be reasonable to pray to an omniscient God, it is equally reasonable to pray to an unchangeable God; for the former necessarily implies the latter. But, in order to show that the objection is without foundation, the following things must be observed :
1. If God were not omniscient and unchangeable, and had not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, he would not be the proper object of worship, and there would be no foundation, reason, or encouragement to make any petition to him.
This, it is presumed, will be evident to any one who will well consider the following observations:
First. If there were no unchangeable, omniscient Being, there would be no God, no proper object of worship. A being who is capable of change is necessarily imperfect, and may change from bad to worse, and even cease to exist, and, therefore, could not be trusted. If we could know that such a being has existed, and that he was once wise and good and powerful, we could have no evidence that he would continue to be wise or good, or that he is so now, or that he is now disposed to pay any regard to our petitions, or is either willing or able to grant them, or even that he has any existence. What reason of encouragement, then, can there be to pray to a changeable being? Surely none at all. Therefore, if there be no reason to pray to an unchangeable God, there can be no reason to pray at all.
Second. If God be infinitely wise and good, and omnipotent, supreme, and independent, then he certainly is unchangeable, and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
This has been proved above, or, rather, is self-evident. But if he be not infinitely wise and good, etc., then he cannot be trusted; he cannot be the object of that trust and confidence which is implied, and even expressed, in praying to him.
THIRD. The truly pious, benevolent, devout man would not desire, or even dare, to pray to God for any thing, if he were changeable and disposed to alter his purpose and plan, in order to grant his petitions. Therefore, he never does pray to any but an unchangeable God, whose counsel stands forever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations. He is sensible that he is a very imperfect creature; that his heart, his will, is awfully depraved and sinful; that he knows not what is wisest and best to be done in any one instance; what is best for him, for mankind in general, for the world, or for the universe; what is most for the glory of God and the greatest general good; and that it would be infinitely undesirable and dreadful to have his own will regarded so as to govern in determining what shall be done for him or any other being, or what shall take place. If it could be left to him to determine in the least instance, he would not dare to do it, but would refer it back to God, and say, “ Not my will, but thine, be done." But he could not do this unless he were certain that the will of God was unchangeably wise and good, and that he had decreed to do what was most for his own glory, and the greatest good of the whole, at the same time infallibly knowing what must take place, in every instance, in order to answer this end, and, consequently, must have fixed upon the most wise and best plan, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass. Therefore, whatever be his petitions for himself or for others, he offers them to God, and asks, on this condition, always either expressed or implied, “ If it be agreeable to thy will;" for otherwise he would not have his petitions granted, if it were possible. And he who asks any thing of God without making this condition, but sets up his own will
, and desires to have it gratified, whether it be for the glory of God and the greatest good of his kingdom, or not, and would, were it in his power, compel his Maker to grant his petition, and bow the will of God to his own will, — he who prays to God with such a disposition is an impious enemy to God, exercises no true devotion, and cannot be heard; and it is desirable to all the friends of God that he should be rejected. Resignation to the will of God always supposes his will is unchangeably fixed and established; which it could not be, unless he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
Thus it appears that if God were changeable, and had not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, there would be no foundation for religious worship, or reason for praying to him; or that there can be no reason or encouragement for prayer and petition to any but an unchangeable God. I proceed to observe,
2. There is good reason, and all desirable and possible encouragement, to pray to an unchangeable God, who has, from eternity, determined what he will do in every instance, and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. This will doubtless be evident to him who will duly consider the following particulars :
Firsr. Prayer is as proper, important, and necessary, in order to obtain favor from an unchangeable God, as it could be were he changeable and had not ordained forever any thing.
Means are as necessary in order to obtain the end as if nothing were fixed and certain. Though it was decreed that Paul and all the men in the ship should get safe to land when they were in a storm at sea, yet this must be accomplished by means, and, unless the sailors had assisted in managing the ship, this event could not take place, and they could not be saved. Prayer is a means of obtaining what God has determined to grant; for he has determined to give it in answer to prayer, and no other way. " Ask, and ye shall receive,” says our Savior. When God had promised to do many and great things for Israel, he adds, " Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” (Ezek. xxxvi. 37.) The granting of favors which God had determined to bestow were as much suspended, on their asking for them, as if there had been nothing determined and fixed about it. There is as much regard had to prayer in VOL. II.
granting favors, and the prayer is heard, and God gives them, as really and as much in answer to it as if there were nothing determined and foreordained respecting them; for the decree includes and fixes the means as much as the end — the method and way by which events are to take place, as much as those events themselves. The one depends on the other as much as if there were no decree and nothing fixed; yea, much more, for the decree fixes the dependence and connection between the means and the end; whereas, if there were no decree, and nothing fixed, there would be no established connection, but all would be uncertain, and there would be no
or encouragement to use means, or do any thing to obtain an end.
Surely, then, there is as much reason and encouragement to pray to an unchangeable God, and this is as important and necessary, as if there were nothing fixed by the divine decrees, and much more ; yea, the unchangeable purposes of God are the necessary, and only proper ground and reason of prayer.
SECOND. Though prayer is not designed to make any change in God, or alter his purpose, - which is impossible, yet it is suited and designed to have an effect on the petitioner, and prepare him to receive that for which he prays. And this is a good reason why he should pray. It tends to make the petitioner feel more and more sensibly his wants, and those of others for whom he prays, and the miserable state in which he and they are ; for in prayer these are called up to view, and dwelt upon; and prayer tends to give a sense of the worth and importance of the favors asked. It is also suited to make persons feel, more and more, their own helplessness and entire dependence on God for the favors for which they petition, of which their praying is an acknowledgment; and, therefore, tends to enhance them in the eyes of the petitioner when given in answer to prayer, and to make him more sensible of the free sovereign goodness of God in granting them. In sum, this is suited to keep the existence and character of God in view, and impress a sense of religious truths in general on the mind, and to form the mind to universal obedience and a conscientious watchfulness and circumspection in all religious exercises.
A kind and wise father, who designs to give his child some particular favor, will bring the child to ask for it before he bestows it, and will suspend the gift upon this condition, for the benefit of the child, that what he grants may be a real advantage to him, and a greater than if it were given before the child was better prepared to receive it, by earnestly and humbly asking for it; and that the father may hereby receive a proper acknowledgment from the child, and be treated in a becoming manner. And, in this case, the petition of the child is as really regarded, heard, and granted, and the child's application
and prayer to the father is as much a means of obtaining the favor, and as I proper, important, and necessary, as if the father had not previously deter
mined the whole affair. And when the children of such a father know that this is his way of bestowing favors on them, they will have as proper motives and as much encouragement to ask for all they want as if he had not determined what he would do antecedent to their asking him; yea, much more.
Third. It is reasonable, and highly proper and important, and for the honor of God, that the friends of God should express and acknowledge their entire dependence on him, and trust in him for all they want for themselves and others, and their belief in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God; and all this is acknowledged, expressly or implicitly, in prayer to God. It is also reasonable and proper that they should express their desire of those things which are needed by themselves or others, and which God alone can give or accomplish; and such desires are expressed in the best way and manner by petitioning for them. And in asking for blessings on others, and praying for their enemies, they express their disinterested benevolence, which is an advantage to themselves, and pleasing to God, even though their petitions should have no influ. ence in procuring the favors which they ask; and in praying that God would honor himself, and advance his own kingdom, and accomplish all the great and glorious things which he has promised to do for his own honor and the good of his people, they do not express any doubts of his fulfilling his promises, but are certain he will grant their petitions; but they hereby express their acquiescence in these things, and their earnest desire that they may be accomplished; and also profess and express their love to God, and friendship to his people and kingdom, and do that which the feelings of a pious, benevolent heart will naturally, and even necessarily, prompt them to do.
We have many examples of such petitions and prayers for those things and events which the petitioners, antecedent to their prayers, knew would certainly be accomplished. We have a decisive and remarkable instance of this in David, the King of Israel, in the following words : “ And now, O Lord God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it forever, and do as thou hast said. And let thy name be magnified forever, saying, The Lord of hosts is the God over Israel: and let the house of thy servant David be established before thee. For thou, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer before thee. O Lord God, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant. There fore now let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant,