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One of the greatest privileges which the God of grace has bestowed upon his people is that of prayer. And one of the strangest facts in all their strange history is their backwardness to avail themselves of this precious privilege. So truly pleasant is the faithful performance of this duty; so honorable is it for dust and ashes like ourselves to be admitted into the presence of the Holy One, to hold unrestrained communion with him ; and so important withal, to be able in this way to have power with God and prevail; that it might be supposed-if the door of the celestial palace was but opened-if the privilege of coming to a mercy-seat was granted—if permission to pray was only given ;--that the mercy seat would be crowded with suppliants, and the voice of prayer would never
But the truin is, that when we are not only permitted, but commanded to pray; and not only commanded, but urged-by motives, promises, and all possible encouragements, to persevere and be faithful in this duty ;-notwithstanding all this, prayer is greatly, fcarfully neglected. The mercy seat, instead of being thronged, is comparatively deserted; and the voice of humble, prevalent prayer, instead of falling in unceasing and delightful accents on the ear of Heaven, there is reason to fear, is but seldom heard.
There is, indeed, no special dearth of the formalities of devotion. There are among Christians-I hope among all Christians- the set times of prayer, in the closet, the family, the social circle, and in the great congregation. But we cannot be ignorant, thai the formalities of devotion are not devotion ; nor do set seasons of prayer always bring with them the true spirit of supplication. We know not but Paul, previous to conversion, prayed as long and as often as any of the Pharisees; and yet language is used respecting him, subsequent to that event, which implies that he never had prayed before. “Inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold -he prayeth!' A strange thing, truly ; Saul of Tarsus--prayetk!
What is prayer ? What is implied in prayer ? In what temper and manner must prayer be offered, in order that it may be acceptable and prevail ?- These, it will be seen, are radical questions, meeting us on the very threshhold of the subject, and requiring to be well considered before we farther proceed.
1. Those who coine to God in acceptable prayer must believe that he is—and that he is such as he is described to be in the Bible. They must believe that he is a God nigh at hand—that, with all his adorable perfections and attributes, he is literally present–in the place of supplication-beholding, hearing and knowing all that passes there. Much prayer, it may be feared, fails of its object, from a want of strong and lively apprehensions of a present God. The Divine Being is too often regarded as a distant spirit, seated far away on his heavenly throne, almost beyond the ken of faith or the reach of prayer; and under these impressions, prayer necessarily becomes a doubtful service, and quickly degenerates into formality. I would not, indeed, have the suppliant impute a corporeal shape and organs to the Hearer of prayer, that he might conceive of him with
the more impression,
though even this were, perhaps, a less evil, than to philosophize and spiritualize Him so far away, as to leave no vivid conceptions of his presence. But I would have all praying persons feel, when they bow before the mercy seat, that that great and glorious personage whom we call God, is really present before their face-as really as the objects of sense around themand nearer ihan any of these objects can be. An impression of this sort, deeply felt when prayer is begun, and retained and cherished while the service is continued, would go far towards excluding the wandering thought, and the dull desire, and would essentially promote that nearness and familiarity of communion, together with that reverence and godly fear, without which prayer cannot be acceptable and prevail.
2. Acceptable prayer implies a full confidence in all those promises which God has given for our encouragement in this duty, and a strong expectation that, so far as we can on the whole desire it, our prayers will be answered. From a want of this accompanying faith, much prayer, doubtless, is rendered ineffectual. Christians pray, because they think it is