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that it may continue forever before thee; for thou, O Lord God, hast spoken it: and with thy blessing let the house of thy servant be blessed forever.” (2 Sam. vii. 25–29.) Here David not only prays God to do that which at the same time he knew and acknowledges God had promised to do, — and, therefore, it was established as firm as the throne of the Almighty, and decreed that it should take place, — but he says that this promise of God, making it certain, was the reason, motive, and encouragement to him to make this prayer: “ Thou, O Lord, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house. And now, O Lord God, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer before thee." We hence are warranted to assert that it is reasonable and proper to pray for that which God has promised, and that the certainty that it will be accomplished is a motive and encouragement to pray for it. How greatly, then, do they err who think that, if every event is made certain by God's decree, there is no reason or encouragement to pray for any thing!
Our Savior, in the pattern of prayer which he has dictated, directs men to pray that God would bring to pass those events which were already fixed and decreed, and, therefore, must infallibly take place. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” etc.
Christ himself, in the seventeenth chapter of John, prays for those whom the Father had given to him, that he would keep them through his own name, and that they might be one, as the Father and Son were one; might be kept from the evil in the world, and be sanctified through the truth; that they might be with him in heaven forever, and behold his glory. At the same time he knew that all this was made certain to them; for he had before said, that all that were given to him should come to him, and he would raise them up at the last day; that he would give unto them eternal life, and not one of them should perish, as none should be able to pluck them out of his hands, or his Father's. He prays, “ Father, glorify thy name;" not because this event was uncertain, but to express his earnest desire of that which he knew was decreed, and could not but take place, and his willingness to give up every thing, even his own life, to promote this. Again, Christ prays in the following words : “ And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” The event for which Christ prays in these words was decreed from eternity, and the decree had been long before published, in the second and one hundred and tenth
Psalms. “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And he had declared the certainty of that for which he here prays, since his incarnation. He had said, that all power in heaven and earth was given unto him; that “the Father had committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” St. Paul, when speaking of God, often introduces the following words: “ To whom be glory forever, Amen;" which is not to be considered as a mere doxology, by which glory is ascribed to God, but it is rather a wish or desire that God may be glorified forever; and the Amen corroborates it: as if he had said, “ Let it be so; this is the most ardent desire of my soul, including the sum of all my petitions." Ilere, then, the apostle utters a desire and petition for that which he knew was decreed and would take place.
The last words of Christ to his church are, “ Surely I come quickly." Upon which promise the following petition of the church, and of every friend of his, is presented to him: “ Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Here is a petition, in which all Christians join, praying Christ to do what he has promised, and which, therefore, was as certain as a declared decree could possibly make it; and the petition is grounded on this promise and decree published by Christ, in which the petitioners express their hearty approbation of the coming of Christ, and earnest desire of this important and happy event; and if it be reasonable thus to pray for an event which is fixed and made certain by an unchangeable decree, and cannot be altered, as in the instance before us, then it is reasonable and proper to pray for any thing or any event which appears to us desirable and important, though we know God is unchangeable, and that all things and every event are fixed by an unalterable decree.
The apostle John says, " And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (1 John v. 14, 15.) To ask for any thing according to his will, is to ask for those things which it is agreeable to his will to grant; and this is to be known only by what he has revealed. When we ask him to do what he has declared he will do, then we know we ask for that which is according to his will
, and, consequently, that we have our petitions. But it will be asked, What are these things? I answer, that God will glorify himself in all things, and make the brightest display of his perfections and character forever; that he will proniote and effect the greatest possible good of the universe; that he will make his church and kingdom persectly happy and glorious forever; that he will accomplish all his designs and predictions, and fulfil all his promises, to his church and people, and cause all things to work for the good of those who love him, and give his Holy Spirit to all who ask him. These, I think, must be the things, we ask, when we know that we pray for any thing according to the will of God, and consequently know that he heareth us, and that we have the petitions that we desired of him. But in all these instances we ask for that which God has said he will do, that is, has decreed that he will do them. And, as it has been said before, if a decree in these instances does not render it unreasonable or improper to pray for their accomplishment, then, if God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass, this is not in the least inconsistent with our praying for whatever appears to us desirable and good, and may not be contrary to the will of God to grant. But here it must be observed, that when we, ask for any particular things or events which, though it may not be contrary to the will of God to grant, yet he has in no way revealed that it is his will to grant our petitions, — when we ask for any such thing, we must do it with an express or implicit reserve - if it be according to the will of God. Otherwise, or if it be not according to his will, we must withdraw our petition, and not desire to have it granted. Resignation to the will of God, whatever it may be, in all such instances, is essential to the pious petitions of a benevolent friend of God. And by thus referring to the will of God, and resigning to that, desiring it may be done in all cases, whatever petitions we may make, we do refer to the decrees of God, by which he has determined what he will do in every particular instance; for his will and his decrees are in this case one and the same, being fixed and unchangeable.
Fourth. It is not only proper and important that the worshippers of God should express their desires of those things which they want, in praying for them, but were this not true, and were not asking for them the means and way of obtaining them, yet the pious friends of God would esteem it a privilege and enjoyment to be allowed and invited, “ by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to make known their requests unto him.” To them prayer is not a task from which they would be glad to be excused, but they practise it with pleasure. They have great support, enjoyment, and happiness
in casting their cares upon God, and expressing the desires of their hearts to him. While others restrain prayer before God, and say, " What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him ?” the benevolent friend of God would pray, were it only for the enjoyment which he has in the exercise, and says in his heart, “ I will call upon God as long as I live.” And though he is certain that God is unchangeable, and that nothing is done or will come to pass which is not foreordained by him, this does not tend to prevent, or in the least abate, the pleasure and enjoyment he has in making known his requests to God, or his desire constantly to practise it; but this truth gives him support and consolation, and increases his delight in calling upon God, and renders it more desirable and pleasant unto him; yea, were not this a truth, he could not find any reason for making his requests known to him, or any delight in doing it, and would not have any encouragement, or even dare, to ask for any thing, as has been observed and shown.
And now this matter is to be left to the judgment of every one who will attend to it. It is hoped that it appears evident beyond all dispute, from the light in which this subject has been now set, that the doctrine of God's lecreeing whatsoever comes to pass is not only consistent with all the exercises of true piety, but is the proper foundation for this, and is suited to excite and promote these exercises; and that there can be no real piety which is not consistent with this truth.
IMPROVEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.
I. It appears, from what has been said on this subject, that they who are in their bearts opposed to this doctrine of the decrees of God are strangers to true piety, and do not fear before God. Though they may have exercises which they call and think to be piety and real religion, and it may have an appearance of it to others, yet it has nothing of the real nature of true piety, but is enmity and opposition to the true God. They may think they love God, and are speaking for him, and to his honor, and in favor of religion, while they are strenuously opposing this doctrine, as dishonorable to God, and destructive to all virtue and true religion ; but they are deceived, and are really opposing and dishonoring the true God, and denying and renouncing that truth which is the only foundation of true piety.
This will, without doubt, be thought very uncharitable by many, as it condemns a great part of professing Christians, as destitute of true piety, and not real Christians. But is it the office of charity to give up the truth because it condemns ourselves or our fellow-men? Is it uncharitable to think and speak according to the truth, and to censure those who are censured by the God of truth? True charity, or love, “ rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” If the subject we have been considering has been justly represented, and the truth established by undeniable evidence, then this inference that has now been made follows with the greatest certainty, and must be admitted, however many are censured and condemned by it, and be they who they may.
It is to be carefully observed, that the inference is, “whosoever in their hearts, and in the exercise of what they call piety, oppose this doctrine of God's foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, have no real religion.” Persous may, through the prejudices of education, or some other way, be led to misunderstand this doctrine, and have very wrong conceptions of it, and imbibe prejudices against it, in their speculations, and yet the exercise of their hearts be in some measure agreeable to it, in the practice of real piety. Their piety may not prevent remove all their
wrong and mistaken speculations and conceptions on this point. But if their hearts oppose this truth, — which is the foundation of all true piety, - their hearts are not right with God, but they must be enemies to him, and in the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity, whatever specious pretences they may make of love to God and of devotion.
On the other hand, persons may be right in their speculations on this point, and be fully convinced of the truth of this doctrine, -yea, be very zealous in arguing for it, and vindicating it against opposers, - and yet never heartily submit to it, but really oppose it in their hearts, and be wholly strangers to every exercise of true piety.
On the whole, he who cordially submits to this doctrine, and has exercises of heart answerable to it, is a pious man, and fears before God, whatever his speculations may be. And he whose heart opposes this doctrine in the whole tenor of his exercises is a stranger to true piety, though he may be orthodox in bis speculative opinion. It is desirable, however, that every man's judgment and speculations should be according to the truth; and it cannot be easily accounted for that a person whose heart is truly pious and benevolent should continue to disbelieve and reject this doctrine, when under all proper and desirable advantages to get light and instruction; to have all his false conceptions of it removed; to know what it is; what is, and what is not, implied in it; and to learn the foundation and reason of it, and how expressly and abundantly,