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ample of Elijah; who, although, a frail man, like others, prayed earnestly, that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. These great effects, it is to be remembered, were consequences of the prayers of a single man.
After the glorious prediction, communicated to Ezekiel concerning the return of the Jews to their own land in the latter days; a prediction delivered in absolute terms by God himself; the same great Being declares, Yet for all this will I be inquired of, that is, prayed to, by the house of Israel, to do it for them. Absolute as the promises of these vast blessings 'were, still the blessings were to be given, only in answer to the prayers of the recipients.
Among the divine promises concerning the Millennial happi. ness, this is a remarkable one. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. From this great fact will arise, inseparably, the happiness itself. Without such an universal spirit of prayer, as is here predicted, the peculiar blessings of that singular period would never exist: for then, as in all preceding periods, the only ordinance of God concerning this subject will be, Ask and ye shall receive.
From all these passages it is, I think, unanswerably evident, that prayer is entirely efficacious to procure blessings from God.
It ought here to be further observed, that we are not to expect any thing, in answer to our prayers, which is not agreeable to the will of God. Nor ought we to wish any thing, which is not of this nature, to be given to us : for nothing else will prove a blessing. Whatever is right, and proper to be done, is a part of the divine will.
Nor ought we to expect the very same kinds, or measures, of good, for which we pray. Often, these would not be good for us: or if good for us at all, they would not be so at the times, and in the manner, in which we ask for them. Good will always be given in answer to our prayers ; but it will be real good; such as God sees to be good; and not such as we erroneously may imagine to be of this nature.
1. All persons have abundant encouragement to pray to God.
This was originally proposed as a distinct head of discourse, I have chosen to introduce it in this form, because it grows so naturally out of the two preceding heads; and because it has, of necessity, been anticipated in the consideration of them. The usefulness of prayer by its own proper influence, and by its efficacy in procuring blessings from God, are prime Encouragements ta the performance of this duty.
The certain prospect of becoming better, wiser, more lovely in the sight of God, and more fitted to receive blessings from his hands, and of actually gaining the blessings by known, limited, and easy efforts, is a combination of the highest and noblest motives, which can influence a rational being. To every suppliant these motives are continually presented. They are presented by God himself: they are established by his undeceiving declarations: they are obvious to our own reason: they are, therefore, real: and ought plainly to have their full influence on every reasoning mind. The good in view is the greatest good. Nay, there is no other real good. It is good, in certain reversion for every suppliant.
In support of this scheme, may be alleged, as full evidence, the numerous examples, in which these great consequences of prayer have actually existed : examples, faithfully recorded in the Scriptures for our encouragement in this duty.
Abimelech received an entire deliverance from the distresses, in which his family were involved, as an answer to the prayer of Abraham.
As an answer to the prayers of Abraham also, God assured him, that, if ten righteous men should be found in the cities of the plain, he would spare those cities; and not consign them to the punishment, which their sins had so eminently deserved.
In answer to the prayer of Job, God forgave the sin and folly of his three friends, in not speaking of him the thing which was right.
At the prayer of Moses, the Israelites were not only deliver
ed from many other evils, but preserved, also, from utter extinction.
At the prayer of Gideon, the dew fell on the ground, and not on the fleece; and again on the fleece, and not on the ground; that he might know the will of God; and be satisfied, that he acted under a divine commission.
At the prayer of Samuel, the Lord thundered on the army of the Philistines, and wrought a great salvation for Israel.
At the prayer of Hezekiah, his life was lengthened fifteen years.
lo answer to the prayer of Daniel, Gabriel was sent from the highest heavens, to explain the wonderful and distressing vi. sion, disclosed to him concerning future times.
As an answer to the prayers of Cornelius, an Angel was sent to direct him to send for Peter, who should teach him words, wherchy he, and all his house, should be saved.
The Apostles lived on prayer; and received, continually, many, great, and wonderful blessings, as immediate answers to their prayers.
To these and other examples of the same nature, recorded in the Scriptures, may be added the commands, parables, and promises, which every where enjoin, explain, and enforce, this great duty.
To all these things may, also, be added the perfect example of the Lord Jesus Christ; who in the days of his flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unlo Him thal was able to save him from death; and was heard in that he feared: or, as the Greek may well be rendered, on account of his piety. This example unites all motives. It is a perfect pattern to us; as being perfectly conformed to the will of God. It is a clear proof, that no being in a dependent state, however excellent, is exempted from this duty, or from the universal law of God's providence, which connects blessings only with prayer. If God would have blessed any being without prayer; he certainly would have blessed Christ. As certainly, Christ, had such been the fact, would not have prayed : since his prayers, in that case, would have been a vain and useless service. The will of his Father he certainly knew; and prayed, only because it was agreeable to his will. Accordingly, his prayers were heard, and always heard. This example, also, has the entire force of a command; and is invested with divine authority. If, then, we obey and follow him in this great duty; we shall do that, which is right in the sight of God, as he did ; shall be accepted for his sake, as he was accepted; and shall be rewarded and blessed as
In these things, thus combined, there is plainly all possible encouragement to pray, and to continue steadfast in prayer. The Father of all mercies regards us in this institution as his children ; prepares us by this duty most happily to realize his character as the Giver of every good and perfect gift ; and fits us in the best manner also to receive his blessings, when they are bestowed. He forms us to the spirit and conduct of children ; and is Himself ready to give good things of all kinds to us, when we thus ask him. In our petitions, we learn the nature and valuc of his blessings; our own absolute need of them; and his unspeakable goodness in furnishing them for our enjoyment. We learn to depend on him ; to trust in him; and to exercise towards him unceasing love, reverence, gratitude, and praise. At the same time we are assured, that we shall never ask in vain.
2. From these considerations I urge, anew, the folly, and sin, of those, who neglect prayer.
Prayer is the avenue to all good, temporal and eternal; and to us the only avenue. He who will not pray, therefore, shuts up the only passage, which has been opened for him by God to the attainment of happiness. It may be alleged here, but it will be alleged to no purpose, that multitudes, who do not pray, are as prosperous as those, who do. An ox is pampered; but it is only for the slaughter. The enjoyments of this life are never blessings to him, that does not pray. If they are merely means of luxury, hardness of heart, and grossness of life, he, who enjoys them, will only treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. On the part of God, indeed, they are always kindly given ; but on the part of the recipient, they are regularly abused by being made incentives to sin. They are, therefore, curses to him by his own perversion ; and are styled blessings, only by an abuse of language.
Without prayer there is no virtue ; no piety; no obedience to God. The commencement of piety in Saul of Tarsus, was thus announced by the Holy Ghost; Behold he prayeth. But without piety there is no blessing reserved for man. indeed, be rich, and great, and luxurious ; may be clothed in purple and fine linen ; and may fare sumptuously every day. Such was the condition of the rich man in the parable. But at the end of a short life, he lifted up his eyes in hell, being in torment; and found, that he had received all his good things in this life.
What excuse, then, can be devised for the neglect of prayer? Is it a hard service ? Be it so. Is not the reward sufficiently great to retribute the toil? Good in hand, of every kind which is real and desirable, and good to come, inestimable and endless, are certainly deserving of any labour, or suffering, which men can undergo. However severe may be the labour of performing the duty, the compensation is certainly ample, and complete.
But is it more severe than the daily toil of laborious men? This you yourselves see cheerfully undergone, merely for the common gains of avarice, by millions, who do not, and cannot, know, that those gains will be good at all. To every sincere suppliant all things work together for good. How vast the difference in these rewards!
Is it harder than profane swearing and cursing? In them, as in prayer, all the labour which exists, exists only in the utterance of words: and multitudes in these evil practices expend much more time, and breath, than is demanded in prayer. All these, also, labour in vain, and spend their strength for nought. Nay, what is infinitely worse, they labour only to be poor, and wretched, and miserable.
But is it hard at all? Is it a hard condition, for the attainment of all good, to ask it; and, above all things, to ask it of the infinitely blessed and bountiful God?
It has been, and undoubtedly will be again, objected by multitudes, some of them probably in this audience, that they cannot pray. Let me ask those, who make this objection, Have you tried ? tried, I mean, in carnest? You will be obliged to answer in the negative. You have never seriously attempted