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You lament the temptations which frequently assault, and sometimes overcome you; and you pray to be delivered from them, or strengthened against them. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” is a reasonable and important petition. But remember, watchfulness must accompany your prayer. They must go hand in hand. “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” If, when you have made your prayer, you trust in this for security, and take no precaution to escape, and call up no resolution to repel the temptations to which you are exposed; if you immediately run into the company, where you have always been ensnared, and indulge those lusts, which naturally draw you aside; you plainly contradict your prayer, and show that you did not intend what you said, nor desire what you asked.
What did you really mean, when you prayed that God would not suffer you to be tempted above what you were able ? Did you mean that he should take away your reason, that so you might cease to be a moral agent ? Or when you deprecated criminal excess,
did you mean that he should cripple your limbs by a gout, so that you could not go to the place of sensual indulgence, or handle a
if you were there? Or when you asked to be restrained from the vices of the tongue, such as profaneness, slander, and obscenity, did you mean that your tongue should be disabled by a palsy so that you could not speak at all? No: If
you meant any thing, it was, that God by his good providence would prevent temptations, or by his good Spirit would excite in you such serious sentiments as might overcome the temptations. If you pray with such a meaning in your hearts, you will not invite a temptation, nor suppress those serious sentiments which oppose it. On the contrary, you will shun the known occasions of sin, and set God always before you, that you may not be moved.
6. They contradict their prayers, who having dedicated their children to God in baptism, neglect the religious education of them.
The dedication of children to God is an institution as early as the existence of a human family. The creation of one woman for one man was, that there might be a godly seed; or that children might be trained up in knowledge and piety. Under all the dispensations of religion, the patriarchal, the Jewish and the christian, attention has been paid to children, and for them a particular form of dedication has been appointed. Youth is the most favorable season for planting the seeds of piety in the mind; and on the rising generation depend the continuance of religion and the preservation of the church. “God established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded the fathers, that they should make them known to their children, that the generations to come might know them, even the children who should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget his works, but keep his commandments."
Parents generally think, and they have scripture authority to conclude that they ought to give up their children to God in baptism. But what is the purpose of this transaction? It is to declare their faith in God, that children are within his covenant-it is to commend them to the care of his providence and grace—it is to offer their own prayers, and to obtain the prayers of the church, that their children may be early sanctified, may grow up in the knowledge and fear of God, may live in holy obedience while they are in this state, and may, through the redemption of Christ, be admitted to glory, when they leave this state.
Now no serious person imagines, that the prayers made at the baptism of his children are all the prayers which ever ought to be made for them. If he sincerely joins in these prayers, he will add many more of his own. But is prayer the only duty which he is bound to perform for his children? No: He is to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
God has committed children to the care of the parent. His fidelity in their education, is one of the means which, by the blessing of God, form them to piety here, and prepare them for glory hereafter. If the parent should neglect his duty to God and them, should never instruct them in the nature, nor inculcate on them the importance of religion-should not encourage any hopeful appearances in them, nor restrain them when they make themselves vile-should allow them to run into the worst company they can find, and to imitate the worst examples they see, and should
exhibit before them no better examples of his own; he would plainly contradict all the prayers which he pretends to make for them, and all the solemnity of their baptismal dedication.
If God is pleased to restrain these children from vice, form them to piety, and prepare them for heaven, it is done by his unpromised grace, not in answer to any prayers of such a parent. He may as well expect that their bodily wants will be providentially supplied without his care, as that their souls will be enlightened without his instructions, and their lives virtuously regulated without his example and precepts.
He is to pray that God would bless parental instructions and precepts for the benefit of his children. But if he gives them none, what is such a prayer, but mockery? He may as well pray that their bodies may be warmed and filled, when he withholds from them food and raiment.
The observations which have been made, may be sufficient to illustrate our subject.
We will conclude with some reflections.
1. Prayer appears to be a great and difficult duty. It consists not only in occasional addresses to God, but also in a manner of life corresponding with these addresses.
When we have reasonable desires we ought to lay them before God, and request that he would fulfil them. But we should remember, at the same time, that we have something to do for ourselves. For God will not do that for us immediately, which we can accomplish in the use of such means, as he has put into our hands. God, doubtless, by his kind providence often preserves us from dangers which we cannot see. But if we run into risible dangers, we cannot rely on his protection. And a prayer for preservation in a presumptuous action would be mockery.
The scripture requires several qualifications, which ought to attend our prayers; such as humility, meekness, charity, forgiveness of injuries, diligence in duty, patience and perseverance in waiting on God. A man of prayer is a man of religion-a devout man is a man devoted to God. A wicked and ungodly life cannot be a devout life. They who seek God must patiently continue in well doing. Jude describes a religious life in this exhortation to christians; “Build yourselves up on your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy
of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 2. We see the necessity of being conversant with ourselves.
We are to pray often—to pray without ceasing. But we should enquire how we pray; whether we pray with real desires and with right affections; and especially whether we live agreeably to our prayers.
There are certain things which we desire. We examine them; they are good. We ought to desire them; God has commanded us to seek them. But do we seek them humbly, and in the use of the proper means to obtain them? We resort to the throne of God, and while we are there we watch over our hearts. But do we keep our hearts at other times? It would be impious, we think, to indulge vile affections and malignant passions and mischievous intentions, while we stand praying. We endeavour to exclude them on such an occasion. But do we, as soon as we retire, invite them back again ? We then defeat the prayer; for the reason why we should exclude them from mingling with a prayer is, that we may maintain purity of heart at all times.
3. We see the principal reason, why our prayers are unsuccessful. It is because we oppose and contradict them. We ask for things which we desire, and then hinder them from coming to us. The prophet says to the Jews, “Your sins have withholden good things from you; your iniquities have turned them away.” James says,
“ Ye lust and have not; desire to have and cannot obtain. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it on your lusts."
The good man often asks for worldly things, which the wisdom of God sees not best to bestow. But for these things he asks with humble submission to the divine will. If God withholds them in mercy, or grants him things which are better for him, his prayers are answered. Spiritual blessings we may request without reserve. If these are not granted to our prayers, it is because our iniquities withhold them from us. In all our prayers let us maintain a consistency. If we ask a favor, let us see that we do not ourselves hinder the bestowment of it. We are to lift up our hands to God, and be careful, that while we reach after a blessing with one hand, we do not thrust it back with the other. If we pray for the pardon of past sins, and go on to repeat them, we reject the pardon. If we pray for the grace of the Spirit, and indulge the lusts of the flesh, we resist the spirit. If we pray for divine consolations, and wound our souls by known wickedness, we refuse to be comforted. They who walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, are such as walk in the fear of God.
To conclude. Let us maintain a life of prayer, and see that our life and prayers be consistent.
Our religion, in order to comfort us here, and save us hereafter, must be all of a piece; it must be a uniform work, directed to one great end, the favour of God and eternal life.
Religion does not consist merely in the forms of prayer, or in any
other external forms. It consists in the love of God, a conformity to his character, faith in his Son, benevolence to mankind, contentment with our condition, and heavenly affection. The use of prayer is to promote these tempers in our souls and elicit the fruits of them in our lives. Thus prayer becomes useful to ourselves and acceptable to God. If we make prayer a substitute for religion, and not an instrument of it, then it ceases to be prayer. It becomes sin. And instead of procuring God's blessings, it brings down guilt on our souls.