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of a Christian life; when, the way being so far prepared, we may consider 2, a few points relating more particularly to this accident of prayer, and its practice or use: the whole being introductory to several important topics which it will be my duty to propose to you distinctly in this continued series of discourses on the Lord's Prayer.
$1. In the general accident of prayer then we may perceive a very, if not the most, important part of religious worship or service; as in such religious worship or service we have a very, but I will not say, the most important, part of the duty that we owe to God as rational and accountable creatures. Our whole duty to God is comprehended in two parts; formal and essential, or worship and obedience; the essential being chief of course, as it appears in that expression of Samuel to Saul, “ Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice:” (Sam. I. xv. 22:) a particular part of divine worship being here put for the whole through the occasion by which this remark was introduced. For that infatuated monarch, like many other infatuated persons, was inclined very strongly to postpone the more weighty and essential part of obedience to the lighter and more formal part of worship or sacrifice to God: which his faithful prophet disallowed; not because he considered that such formal part could easily be dispensed with, but because he disapproved of the exchange; thinking perhaps with “the other Prophet" whom Moses, his predecessor foretold, “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. xxiii. 23.)
The connecting links between duty and worship are two, intellectual and spiritual, or faith and love, or according to St. Paul, “THE FAITH WHICH WORKETH BY LOVE.” Or otherwise, that which unites these two parts, applying the substance to its form, or obedience to worship, as Samuel and “the other Prophet” required, may be regarded as a common principle or qualification, of which either partaking is made by such participation to be one with the other. For faith working by love is the soul of both, namely of both worship and obedience : it is their common life; and they cannot either of them exist without it, any more than either of them can properly exist without the other. It is an heavenly, paramount principle indeed, is such faith ; though the present be not a proper occasion to enlarge upon it; or I should be glad, not only to enlarge on the doctrine, but to illustrate the same by a well known example, as it is also cited by St. James to shew “how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect.” (Jam. ii. 22.)
Only believing in God generally will first beget in us a corresponding sentiment of awe and veneration, which becomes more perfect and practical the more we know of him ; teaching at once as well what ought to be as what is, and how he would have the sentiment expressed, whether directly toward himself or indirectly through his creatures : and we cannot but obey accordingly as long as this sentiment shall prevail. But the direct offering or expression of a dutiful regard to the Object of our worship can only be formal and priceless or insignificant in itself; however he may be graciously pleased to take it. “For (as the apostle observes) God hath concluded us all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all sorts. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (says he.) How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways how past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again. For of him, and through him, and to him are all things : to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. xi. 32, &c.) Nay our righteousness of every kind whether direct or indirect, that is, whether Godward or human--can be nothing in fact to him. Elihu observes in Job, “ If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand ? ” (Job xxxv. 7.)
Yet, as it appears on our Saviour's authority before cited, likewise in my text and elsewhere, that the formal
part of our duty to God is still to be cultivated for the sake of the essential, it so deserves to be accordingly explained and considered. Consider we therefore, with a view to the essential part of obedience, in what this formal part of worship may consist; as for example, whether in any act that does not imply or suppose an inferiority in the agent compared with its divine Object, particularly in having some boon either to beg or acknowledge, if not both at once, as its end. For I think it does : and if so, it will follow, that the whole part of divine worship, in which the accident of prayer forms so considerable an ingredient, is of a piece, as one should expect; being all of the uplooking, or inferior appetitive kind : and not one part inferior and another superior, one begging and another bestowing, or promising at least; as it happens sometimes between man and man. But why do I say, it seems thus to me, when the same is clearly intimated to us by the word of God? as for example in that glorious Psalm, the fiftieth, especially: where God is quoted as saying in reference to this matter, “I will not reprove thee because of thy sacrifices, or for thy burnt offerings, because they were not alway before me. I will take no bullock out of thine house, nor he-goat out of thy folds.” (Ps. 1. 8, 9.) It is not such matters as these, that God chiefly regards : “Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High,-and call upon me in the time of trouble ; so will I hear thee, and thou shalt praise me.” (Ib. 14, 15.)
By requiring some sort of vows from us it would seem indeed as if the Deity proposed for his share in the latter part of this expostulation what he disclaims in the beginning: he will not have any bullocks, nor he-goats off our premises ; but something he will have of us that may be vowed, and insist on its payment too. “Pay thy vows unto the Most High ” says he. By other examples likewise that might be given it would seem as if in some of our religious services we had to quit the humble relation of suppliants and dependents for that of contractors, (Deut. xxix. 12, &c.,) or even creditors: (Prov. xix. 17:) and if so, the part of divine worship and communion cannot be altogether of that simple kind which I am representing. Thus for example, in one place we have a patriarch of Israel, or rather Israel himself stipulating with God for his acknowledgement: which was at the place then called Luz but afterward celebrated by the name of Beth-el. “ And Jacob vowed a vow,” saying, “ If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone which I have set for a pillar shall be God's house; and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Gen. xxviii. 19, &c.) In another place we have an eminent leader, or “ Head” of the people, vowing to God a handsome present, whatever he should choose, by way of a burnt offering on certain conditions : (Judg. xi. 30 :) which would seem more worthy of a Trojan hero, than of a Christian or Israelite. And all this is written in the law, beside what Solomon says in his Proverbs about “ lending unto the Lord:” so that we cannot doubt its authenticity. But on the other hand we read in the same Law, that “the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance,” (Deut. xxxii. 9,) and might infer therefrom only, to say nothing of positive authorities, that, Jacob, if as a prince he had power with God and with men, (Gen. xxxii. 28,) had nothing to vow independent of the sublime Object of his vows and worship. How the Patriarch could think of promising or proposing an allegiance to which he was generally bound by nature and specifically by God's covenant with Abraham, is one of those problems which will occur sometimes in sacred history as well as profane, and we are not obliged to make out. We are not to expect a perfect consistency among the fathers any more than among the moderns. For the law however perfect itself, " and holy and just and good,” (Rom. vii. 12,) made no
thing perfect, (Heb. vii. 19,) like itself: no more might the covenant of Abraham, the law of nature, nor even the gospel of Christ. The present is at best but a state of improvement: room enough there is for it in every department; and for it in the spiritual especially, we cannot have a better guide than the last mentioned. We must not expect any thing perfect at second hand, though the immediate works of God be all stamped with his perfection.“ All his commandments are true: they stand fast for ever and ever and are done in truth and equity.” (Ps. cxi. 7, 8.) While the best human institutions, which are framed by his commandments, and the best human lives which are regulated by such institutions, can only be considered in a course of training or progression.
Even in our very forms of prayer there will always be room for improvement, though there be none in the heavenly model of which we are considering: and why? because this is an original production, an immediate work of God; and they are only imitations of the same, which indeed is no small commendation. In that holy form of prayer which we are taught by the Word himself there is no promising and vowing, no magnificent allusion to what we have at home in the house, nor in our stalls, or folds ; but a very candid plea of poverty and acknowledgment of our unworthiness, which are likely to signify more with him with whom we have to do. There may be in one clause some reference to a condition : but it will appear to be a condition of God's making, and not of the suppliant's: so would it no doubt in every other case that his word authorises, if we could only make it out; as here for example with regard to special vows, and the personal especially for those who are generally consecrated to God under either testament. For in the devotion of a Levite, if it be hereditary, as well as in the ordination of a Christian priest, there is a special assignment of the subject or person, and for a special purpose beyond the general terms of the covenant by which God's people, not being subjects