« PreviousContinue »
there are dispositions and sentiments still more intimately allied to it, and which should be wrought into its very essence.
Three of these deserve to be enumerated. We must approach God with Reverence. Men tremble before their equals, but they are at their ease before God: they fear those who can neither benefit nor hurt them, and they fear not Him whose judgment will determine their happiness or misery for ever. Nay, in the opinion of many, to feel much uneasiness or apprehension respecting our spiritual condition, is the mark of a low and pusillanimous spirit. But this is not courage; it is fatuity. Beings more powerful and more daring than men, do not judge thus: “ the devils believe and tremble.” We tremble not as they with a base and servile dread; yet to fear God above all things is one of the chief characteristics of true piety. It is inseparable even from love, according to the measure at least of our ordinary attainments here: though indeed there is a love that “casteth out fear." However, there can be no question that the profoundest reverence, the deepest sense of the Majesty of Him whom we address, ought to accompany every exercise of devotion. These sentiments have nothing in them that is mean
. or degrading: they are suitable to the relations which connect the creature with his Creator: they are most highly becoming a sinful being towards his offended Judge. They communicate a seriousness, weight, and fervour to our prayers; banishing from our minds every thought that is light or unseasonable. They raise the soul, by filling it with just apprehensions of the most exalted and most excellent of Beings. They impart a sanctity to every thing around us: and place us, as it were, in the midst of a tem
ple "resounding with awful voices, and filled with holy inspirations.
Another quality (or whatever be its just description) indispensable to prayer, is Earnestness. Without some measure of earnestness, prayer cannot be; and without a considerable measure, it can scarcely be acceptable; for unless we heartily desire to obtain the things we ask, is it not a mere mockery to implore them at the hand of God? But here is the chief difficulty. We can pray earnestly for any thing which we really wish to possess; but our petitions for spiritual things are apt to be faint, because our desires after them are feeble. If then, we would be serious in our prayers, we must first be serious in our hearts;-we must feel, that the pardon, the favour, and the sanctifying influ. ences of God, are not merely in words, but in very truth and certainty, the greatest of all blessings. Are they not really such? Does there exist in the universe a single being, not irrecoverably depraved, who could lay his hand upon his heart, and say, that he even doubts of this truth? How is it, then, that we desire so little what we acknowledge to be so excellent? Or can we believe, when our Heavenly Father has opened all the treasures of his goodness to us, that he will not esteem it a high affront if we are still insensible to their value? Let us remember, that our Redeemer has not only enjoined earnestness in prayer, but importunity; and that he has accompanied his come mand with an assurance that such petitions shall undoubtedly be successful. Prayer is the evidence and expression of the grace we have, as well as the appointed method of procuring what we have not. Whoever therefore, rests satisfied with slight and formal devotions, acknowledges that he neither possesses the spirit of real religion, nor dem
sires to possess it. Would any Christian venture to make this profession of his character before men? Is it less alarming to make such a profession of it daily before God?
There is yet another disposition which belongs to prayer, far too essential to be omitted-Love. This is the blessed principle which gives to every religious exercise, and more especially to devotion, a grace, an excellence, and a delight which nothing else can communicate. It is like the " cred influence” of light in the visible world, which cheers and animates every object, which displays a thousand charms unknown and unimagined, and mingling with them its own radiance, more excellent than them all, awakens a slumbering creation to joy and life, adoration and praise. If we would find in prayer its full blessing and proper happiness, it is absolutely necessary that we love God fervently. Love includes reverence; it insures earnestness; in its vigorous exercise it comprehends or implies every thing that is requisite in prayer. But if love be faint, all devotion languishes; our spirits are weary, our faith cold, our desires feeble, our thoughts irregular and distracted. Love renders prayer delightful to ourselves, and acceptable to our Maker. It makes us willing to ask, and willing to receive; deeply sensible of our past mercies, and desirous to obtain more, not only that we may be richer in blessings, but that we may be more deeply indebted to Him who bestows them, and enjoy more abundant manifestations of his perfections and goodness. It makes us sensible of a delightful complacency in the presence of our Great Benefactor, and conforming us in heart and desires to his blessed image, communicates and perfects that filial relațion in which the Father of our Lord Jesus delights to re
gard us, that he may deal with us as obedient children, holy and acceptable in the Beloved.
These are some of the requisites in prayer; feebly expressed, faintly delineated; but what hand can adequately pourtray its true excellence! Of the objects of our devotions, it is not possible to speak with the same precisione We are commanded to ask for spiritual blessings; we are allowed to supplicate even for temporal mercies. But the nature of our petitions must necessarily vary with our wants, our dangers, our spiritual knowledge and experience. Some things however there are, so essential that they can never be absent from the devotions of a Christian. Forgiveness of guilt, and protection against temptation, as. we always need, we must always implore. Grace to fear God and to love him, grace to watch against sin, and for advancement in holiness, is at least as necessary to the soul, as our daily bread for the body. But the detail of our supplications, and the sources and expressions of praise, no rules can sufficiently prescribe either to ourselves or others. With respect to temporal mercies, some doubtless are very great, and may be innocently and earnestly implored. For these we little need suggestions; we are seldom slow to discern, or forgetful to express them. There are seasons too of difficulty and distress in which every faithful Christian will fly to the Throne of Grace for relief, support, instruction. But though we are commanded to call on God in the day of trouble, and encouraged even to hope that our prayers for some more special blessings will be heard and granted, it is not, I believe, characteristic of a deep piety or a comprehensive wisdom, to enter ordinarily into much detail and specification in regard to temporal mercies.' The greatest derive their excel
lence chiefly from a connection with spiritual things; and
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
discern afar The secret ambush of a specious prayer; Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
Secure whate'er he gives, he gives the best t. It is always a matter of some anxiety with Christians, to discover what are the evidences of a state of grace, that they may not deceive themselves in the most important of all inquiries. Various criteria have been proposed; and undoubtedly, as in the natural world it is the union of many qualities which determines an object, and the combination of many dispositions which forms a character, so it is the alliance of many graces which ascertains the Chrisţian. Yet if any one attainment could safely be relied on
* Juv. 10 Sat. † Vanity of Human Wishes, cir. fin..