Page images

secution they were forced to assemble in the night; and in the following ages, when persecution cealed, and so the occasion of those nightly assemblies ccased likewise, yet in some places, especially when a monaftical life came to be esteem'd, they continued still these nocturnal offices. But the Church of England at the reformation observed a moft excellent decorum in this matter, requiring only the morning and evening service in her Liturgy, and these neither at any definite hours, leaving that to the wisdom of governours, and the convenience of places, and the attending of this service (as well as the private exercise of devotion) where the neceffary bufiness of human life will admit, may very well be look'd upon, as included in that acceptable frequency which importunity and perseverance

do imply

(4.) PERSEVERANCE in prayer implies unweary'd and undiscouraged countenance in begging fome particular mercy, tho' God seems not to regard us, nor does, in any thing at present, look as if he would ever answer us in that matter. That such an importunity is an act of faith which God is well pleased with, and how long soever he may keep us in the exercise of it, by seeming to take no notice of our request, will certainly at length give a gracious answer to, is several times inculcated by our Saviour ; as in that parable of the unjuft judge, and the importunate widow, the moral of which is exprefly declared to be, that * Men ought always to pray, and not to faint, and in that other of the housholder raised at midnight by the importunity of his friend, though other considerations would not prevail to supply him with what he wanted. And that this is that very perseverance more immediately encouraged by our Saviour here, appears, in that

* Luke xviii. I, 2.


he makes the application of the last mentioned parable, in the same words with his exhortation here, + Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye Mall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. The like encouragement he gives also in his conduct to the woman of Canaan, who follow'd him with repeated solicitations to heal her daughter, and tho' sharply answered and repuls’d, would take no denial; whereupon, as if he were overcome at length by her resolute perseverance, he answered her, to woman, great is thy faith :: Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. Such perseverance therefore is an act of faith, most highly acceptable to God; when tho' all circumstances look dark about us, and we have long and earnestly prayed, yet seem to have hitherto prayed in vain; and have no prospect of being answered ftill, and every thing carries an appearance, that we shall never gain our point; we nevertheless hold on praying, continue our earnest requests, and wait submissively the will of God concerning us. Hoping even against hope, and with pious Job, resolving, * Tho' he say me, yet will I trust in him. We are not to suppose, that God's requiring or expecting this importunity, is a mere point of majesty. Tho' if it were, 'tis surely reasonable; and the most exalted creature in the universe could not think much to wait upon the sovereign and infinite Majesty of God with its requests, how long foever it might be before he would vouchsafe an answer: Nor are we to imagine, that by repeated solicitations we may tire him out, and so change his mind, and oblige him to grant us what he had no intention at first to yield to: For that were a weakness, of which the unchangeable wisdom of God is incapable. But he requires and expects it, because he would exercise our faith in him,

| Luke xi. 9.

# Mat. xv. 28.

Bb 2

* Job xiii. 15


and try us, whether we can firmly adhere to, and depend upon him under such discouraging delays and seeming disregard of us; and this too, Tfor our own sakes; that our virtue being the brighter by such an exercise, may be the more gloriously rewarded, and the blessing we have fo long desired, may be the more acceptable to us, and more thankfully received by us, when it comes. For we pray, and persevere in praying; the mercy we pray for (provided it be really a mercy, and will do us good) will surely come at last: If we thus ask, it shall be given us ; thus seek, we shall find; thus knock, it shall be opened to us. But then we must consider the matter of our petitions, what it is we ask for; if it be riches, or long life, or grandeur and honour in this world, to be importunate in begging these, is to be impudent; God has no where promised them; nay, he has forbid us to set our hearts upon them; and therefore such an importunity about them, is not only vain and trifling, but displeasing to him. For a sickly man to be importunate in begging health; a man under the prestures of poverty, such supplies as are necessary for him, or a change of his condition for a better; a man in danger, or in any affliction begging for deliverance; or engaged in any lawful undertaking of moment, imploring success, and a blessing on his endeavours: In these and the like cases, I say, 'tis lawful to be importunate, because God has encouraged us to ask; but then the concern being only temporal, and the glory of God, and our own real good being, for ought we know, more to be served by denying, than by answering our request, the importunity here must be always accompany'd with an humble and entire fubmission to God's will and wisdom. This our Saviour's example teaches us; who tho' he prayed thrice, and

Pet. i. 7.

very earnestly in the garden, that he might not suffer, still corrected his desires with, nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done. But when we pray for spiritual blessings, for pardon of sin, and for the grace of God, importunity has its full scope; it is not only lawful, but a virtue here; and we may sollicite absolutely for them, and must never cease till we obtain them. Thus I have gone through the first

part of the paragraph, I come now to the second.

II. The great rule of doing as we would be done by, than which nothing is a more equitable, or a more easy guide for our behaviour in the offices of society, or civil life, towards all with whom we have to do. The equity of it is so visible, that it needs no proof; the universal reason of mankind agrees to it in the theory, though their appetites and passions hurry them beside the practice. Nay, fo fond of it was that brave and virtuous Roman Emperor Alex. Severus, tho' an Heathen, that giving it the negative turn, he caused it be wrote in letters of gold over the gates of his palace, and in other public places; Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris; What you would not have others do to YOU, do not you to OTHERS. And the easiness of this rule, is as great as the equity of it : For 'tis, a guide which every man carries in his own breast, whereby he can readily determine, without recurring to large volumes of laws, or systems of morality, or courts of judicature, what is just and fit for him to do with respect to another; he needs but turn the tables, and suppose his neighbour's case to be his own, and his his neighbour's, and then he has his direction at hand; what usage he should give, by considering what usage he would expect. We are commanded to love' our neighbour as our selves; but our partiality in this,


Bb 3

and the difference we are apt to make, in the way of love and esteem, betwixt our selves and others, is the cause of all injustice. Now this selfishness, is what the precept here of doing as we would be done by, is designed to correct. And the rule is so true and exact in it felf, that were it not for the corruption of human nature, which triumphs in nothing more than in perverting and debauching that which should reform it, one might pronounce it to hold good in all cases without bounds or limitations; but because the very best things are liable to abuse, and the wifeft maxims may be stretch'd beyond the design and reason of them, it will be necessary lo to restrain our present rule, that it may not lead us beyond what is lawful or reasonable to be done.

(1.) We must confine it to things that are lawful, or not prohibited by the word of God: For else the Scriptures would be contradictory, if by this rule of doing as we would be done by, we are obliged or allow'd to do to others, what by other plain and evident texts we are forbid to do, or to desire. My friend desires me to tell a lie for him to excuse him, or to spread a false story about for his advantage; or though he don't defire it, yet I think it would serve his interest, and what then? Though I my self should be so wicked, or so weak, as to desire the like of another, or be glad of its being done on my account, yet will this rule by no means justify my doing so for any body else, because it is sinful either for me either to tell a lie my self, or to desire another should; in like manner it will be no excuse to a cheating gamester, that he will give the person he games with leave to cheat him if he can; nor to him that endeavours to make his companion drunk, that he is very willing to be made as drunk himself; becaufe cheating and drunkenness are fins, and no pretence whatsoever can qualify the guilt. This maxim therefore, of doing as


« PreviousContinue »