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Most people, if they are dangerously sick, choose to have a visit from their minister. When he comes, they request him to pray with them. They expect that he will pray for the restoration of their health, for the pardon of their sins, for the grace of the Divine Spirit to sanctify their souls, for the consolation of their anxious friends, and for such mercies as are adapted to the state of the family; and on this occasion they will require the attendance of the household. If they are in a capacity for conversation,
. they will desire his advice. When he retires, they will ask him to continue his prayers and repeat his visits. If he should not visit them at their request, and perhaps without their request, or should decline to pray with them and the family when he came, they would think he much neglected his duty, and was too unfeeling to the distresses of his flock. If their disorder should appear very threatening, they would ask the prayers of the assembly on the Lord's day, in hope, that the prayers of many will avail.
But perhaps among those who desire prayers on such occasions, there are some, who have rarely prayed in their families or in their closets, and who, if they should recover, will neglect prayer in future, as they have done before. Now I would ask such persons, what benefit they expect from other people's prayers, when they offer none of their own. By asking prayers you profess to think them important. If you think them important, why do
you not offer some for yourselves ? It is as much your duty to pray, as it is the duty of others. You are as much bound to pray for yourselves, as your neighbors can be to pray for you. If you would censure a minister, a professor, or a church, who should decline to perform this charitable office, why do you not condemn yourselves, for neglecting a personal duty ? Or do you imagine, that prayer is necessary only when you are sick? If it be necessary then, why not at other times? Is this the only case in which you are dependent on God, or in which God will hear you? You are dependent at all times, and therefore you ought to "pray always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watch thereunto with all perseverance."
. We pray for men's recovery from sickness, that they may live to God's glory. Ought you not then to live to his glory before you
are sick, and to seek his grace, that you may live to his glory? We pray, that the sick may have a further space of repentance and preparation for death. Ought you not then to repent and prepare for death, while you have a space allowed you? If prayer is of any use in the work of preparation for death, it is as much a duty in health as in sickness.
3. Zedekiah asked the prophet's prayers, but heard not his words.
There are many like him. They seldom visit the house of God to join in its sacred solemnities. If you ask them the cause of their neglect, they will probably give you a careless and evasive answer. “It is not convenient for us to attend at the place , of worship—we live remote-we have been wearied with the labours of the week-we can read good books at home-we can pray for ourselves.”
. If there should be a death in the family—if a child should be removed from its parents, or a parent from his children-if a man should lose his wife, or a woman her husband, there would probably be, on the next sabbath, a general attendance of the surviving members of the family, and prayers would be requested for them all, that the affliction might be made subservient to their spiritual good. But perhaps you will rarely see them in the sanctuary again, till another family affliction calls them there. Why are not such persons as inconsistent with themselves, as was the king of Judah, who asked the prophet's prayers, but would not hear his words?
If I knew there were any such now present, I would take the liberty thus to argue with them.
If it is the duty of the church to pray for you in affliction, why is it not your duty to pray for others in a similar case ? Your peighbors are liable to affliction as well as you. But if you seldom come to God's house, you will seldom have an opportunity to join in the prayers of the church for your afflicted neighbors. Do you think, that you are the only persons who should be remembered in the day of adversity ? If all should neglect the worship of God, as you do, where would be the assembly who could pray for you, or for any body else? By asking prayers you siga
nify, that public prayers are important; by neglecting stated worship you signify, that they are of no importance.
When we pray for the afflicted, what do you expect will be the substance of our prayers ? You expect we shall pray,
that their affliction may be sanctified. This is the common phrase. And what is it for an affliction to be sanctified? It is then sanctified to them, when it is the means of sanctifying them, and making their hearts better. But will your affliction sanctify you, or make you better, while you live in the careless neglect of a plain institution of God-an institution which was designed to be the means of religious instruction and improvement ? And what consistency is there in you, more than in the nobles of Judah, when they sent to desire the prayers of the prophet ?
Think not that we disapprove of desiring publick prayers in times of family affliction. This is very proper; and it is also proper that the family should attend the publick devotions at the time when prayers for them are offered. But then it is desirable that they should be consistent with themselves, and should attend at other times as well as this. Otherwise there is too much the appearance of formality, and of a mere conformity to custom, and too great a resemblance of the hypocrisy of the men of Judah, who, in their trouble, sent to Jeremiah, saying, pray now to the Lord for us, and yet hearkened not to the words which the Lord spake by the prophet. They wished for his prayers, but would not hear his sermons.
4. There is a like inconsistency in those, who contradict their prayers by a wicked life.
The prophet speaks of some, “who seek God daily, and yet multiply their transgressions—who spread forth their hands and make many prayers, when their hands are defiled with blood.” “ Draw nigh to God,” says the Apostle, “and he will draw night to you.” But how shall we draw nigh to him? He adds, “ Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep.” “If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us." We cannot be said to draw near to God, as long as we retain our known iniquities, and refuse to renounce them. Vain was the request, which the Jews
sent to the prophet for an interest in his prayers, while they disregarded his exhortations to repentance of sin and amendment of life. It was their wickedness which had brought them into trouble, and which threatened their destruction. Their deliverance depended on the mercy of God. This they were to seek by prayer. Their prayer was to be accompanied with repentance. They were to pray
for grace to mend their hearts and reform their lives, as well as for mercy to pardon their sins and avert their dangers.
It was doubtless proper, that they should ask the prophet to pray for them. But if they resolved still to pursue their past course of life, there was no sincerity in their application, nor would his prayers avail to their deliverance. This was God's message to them by Isaiah, “When ye spread forth your hands and make many prayers, I will hide mine eyes, and will not hear you, for your hands are full of blood. Wash ye, make you clean, put
, away the evil of your doings, cease to do evil, learn to do well.” Then “though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow, and though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.”
5. We are inconsistent with ourselves, when we pray for divine favours, and neglect the proper means to obtain them.
As we are dependent on God for every thing which we need, prayer must be a reasonable service; for what can be more reasonable, than that we should seek all good from him, from whom all good comes ? But as God requires of us particular duties, as means of obtaining the blessings which we desire, so there is the same reason why we should attend to these duties, as why we should
pray: In common life we see this connexion, and we act accordingly. No man, if his house were on fire, would expect to extinguish the fire by prayer, without the application of water. We are to pray, that God would give us, day by day, our daily bread. But who expects to obtain his daily bread by prayer alone, without the labours of industry? Prayer will not plow one's field nor fence it, nor reap the grain nor thresh it. But prayer may procure him strength to labour, and a blessing to accompany and succeed his prudent industry. When the Israelites, in their flight from Egypt, found themselves pressed in their rear by the Egyptians, just as their front had reached the Red Sea, they cried
to the Lord in despair, and murmured at Moses for bringing them into such perplexity. But this was no time to delay. God said: to Moses, “Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak to the people, that they go forward.” Prayer on this occasion was proper, if it were made in faith and humility, and by secret ejaculations from individual hearts. But prayer was not to retard their march, for their enemies were upon them, and they must go forward trusting in the power and promise of God for their deliverance.
In religious, as well as secular life, there must be a concurrence of prayers
and means. We must do what is appointed for us to do, and humbly look to God for success. To trust in our own works without regard to God, is impiety. To trust in our prayers without attention to other duties, is mockery. “Trust in the Lord and do good, and verily thou shalt be fed.” Seek for eternal life, by a patient continuance in well doing, and surely thou shalt obtain it. “Seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon
. him while he is near. But what is it to seek the Lord and call upon him? This is immediately explained, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
You desire the pardon of your sins and the salvation of your souls. They are God's gifts; go seek them of him. But how? In the way in which God bestows them. Seek them by faith in his promise, by repentance of sin, by amendment of life. Seek them by prayer ; but let your prayer be accompanied with a resolution against all sin, and with a desire of God's grace, that you may carry this resolution into effect. Otherwise your prayer is vain.
You desire the spirit of grace to work in you repentance toward God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus. God gives the spirit to
. them who ask him. Go then and seek the spirit. But if you seek the Spirit, take care that you do not oppose and resist it. If, when you ask the Spirit, you suppress the convictions awakened in you, indulge the lust of the flesh, and walk according to the course of the world, you contradict your prayers.