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[This is plainly declared in the passage before us, and therefore it may certainly be expected. But here it will be proper to mark the different limitations with which the subject must be understood. If these be not carefully noted, I grant that much error may prevail in relation to it; but if these be kept in view, we may take to ourselves all the comfort which this subject is calculated to convey.
First, then, the text itself limits our petitions, and supposes them to be in accordance with the will of God: “If we ask any thing according to his will." It were absurd to imagine that we could, by any request of ours, prevail on the Deity to do any thing which was contrary to his will. This limit, therefore, must be admitted of course. Besides, our prayers must be offered in the name of Jesus Christ. He is our Mediator; nor is there any access to God for us, except through him. Hence he himself, in order to the acceptance of our prayers, requires that they be offered in his named. They must also be offered up in faith. A man that doubts and “wavers in his petitions must not expect to receive any thing from the Lord." Our Lord therefore declares this to be essential; “Whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive?."
And peculiarly strong is his declaration in another place, where he says, “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them 8." Our prayers, too, must be presented with a pure and holy end ; not for the gratification of any unhallowed feeling of our own, but with a view to the honour of our God h.
Moreover as proper limits must be assigned to our prayers, so a proper latitude must be conceded to God for his answers to them. He is not bound in relation to the time when he shall answer them, or the manner in which he shall answer them. He
may suffer us to wait long before he answers us; that so we may feel the deeper need of his mercy, and be better prepared to receive it, and be led more devoutly to praise him when he has answered. In answering us, too, it must be left to him to grant what, in his infinite wisdom, he may judge most conducive to our welfare. “ He heard his dear Son always ;” yet he did not take the bitter cup out of his hands ; but enabled him to drink it', and for his sake took it out of the hands of a dying world. He did not extract the thorn from the flesh of his servant Paul; but he made use of it, to prevent the risings of pride, which would have been an infinitely sorer plague ; and enabled him to rejoice and glory in it, as the means of honouring more abundantly his Lord and Saviour
d John xiv. 13, 14. and xvi. 23, 26.
e Jam. i. 5–7.
Jesus Christk Even to an angel he refused the specific request; but "answered him with good and comfortable words," which were eventually a more suitable and substantial blessing?
Take these limitations, then, with respect to our prayers, and these exceptions respecting God's answers to them; and then we need not fear to entertain the confidence described in our text: we may not only be sure that God hears us, but we either have, or shall have, the petitions that we desired of him.”
And now you will readily see, II. The encouragement which this affords him to
abound in that dutyWhat is there that man can need at the hands of God? Whatever it may be, he is at liberty to ask it : and may be confident, that, in answer to his petitions, it shall be granted to him. Needest thou, believer, 1. The forgiveness of thy sins ?
[Call them to remembrance from thine earliest infancy, and spread them all before him : fear not, either on account of their number or malignity; but go with confidence to thy God, in the name of Jesus; and “he will blot them out as a morning cloud,” and “cast them all behind him, into the very depths of the seam."] 2. A supply of grace, to sanctify thy soul ?
(Look not at the inveteracy of thy lusts, as though they were too great to be subdued; but look rather at the extent of God's gracious promises; and expect that he will enable
“ cleanse yourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God n.” Restrain not prayer before him; and he will transform you into “his perfect image, even from glory to glory," " by the mighty working of his Spirit, who raised Christ himself from the deado"
["Be not straitened in yourselves, my brethren; for ye are not straitened in God.” He himself says to you, “ Open your mouth wide, and I will fill itp" and therefore spread before him your every want, assured that, as he is able, so also
k 2 Cor. xi. 9.
i Zech. i. 12, 13.
is he willing, to “ give you exceeding abundantly above all that ye can ask, or even think q”
If it be said, that such confidence is not warranted at this day, I ask, Are our privileges diminished under the Christian dispensation? or, Are we less entitled to expect these blessings, than the Jews were, under their less perfect economy? I grant, that we are not authorized to expect such visible interpositions as they enjoyed: but ours shall not be a whit less real, or less certain. We have not the Urim and Thummim, whereby to consult God, and obtain an answer that shall be legible by acknowledged marks upon the breast-plate ; but God will nevertheless hear us when we call upon him; and cause us also, in doubtful circumstances, to hear a voice behind us, saying, “ This is the way; walk ye in it.” Though therefore I acknowledge, that, as being under a theocracy, the Jews enjoyed privileges peculiar to themselves, I affirm that, so far as those privileges will conduce to our spiritual welfare, we possess them in as high a degree as ever they did; and it is our own fault if we avail not ourselves of them, for the advancement of our souls in peace, in holiness, and in glory. Did the Prophet Elijah shut and open the windows of heaven? it is recorded to 'shew the efficacy of prayer, for whatever it be made, and by whomsoever it be offered.)
I would not however conclude without suggesting a caution, in reference to your exercise of this confidence
[Take care to exercise it with modesty and holy fear, It is possible enough to mistake our own feelings for an answer to prayer; and to persuade ourselves that God is directing us, when we are following only the imaginations of our own hearts. Let us, on all occasions, take the written word for our guide ; and, in all doubtful circumstancess, wait the issue, before we presume to refer them to God as expressions of his will in answer to our prayers. The truth in our text is to be improved rather for our encouragement to commit our ways to God, than for the purpose of determining positively what God has done, or will do. Let us take it with this limitation, that God will fulfil our requests, if they will really conduce to our welfare and to his glory; and then we cannot err, nor can our confidence ever be misplaced.]
9 Eph. iii. 20.
Jam. v. 16-18.
the CHRISTIAN'S KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST. 1 John v. 20. We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
IT is thought by many, that the doctrines of the Gospel are uncertain speculations, and that the experience of them in the soul is nothing more than an enthusiastic conceit. We acknowledge that the mysteries of religion are in many respects beyond the grasp
of our reason; and that the inward feelings arising from them can be judged of by those only in whose bosom they are found: yet neither the one nor the other can on this account be considered as uncertain : on the contrary, whenever they are mentioned in the Scriptures, they are spoken of as matters that are plain and unquestionable. In the text, and the two verses that precede it, the Apostle thrice repeats the assertion, “We know:"_“We know that he that is born of God sinneth not :" “ We know that we are of God:" and then, in reference both to the Gospel itself, and to his experience of its truth, he adds a third time, “ We know that the Son of God is come,” &c.
From these words we shall be led to notice three things which Christians know in relation to their Lord and Saviour: I. His advent
The first Christians knew assuredly that the Messiah was come
[To state all the grounds of their conviction, would be superfluous, and indeed impossible in a single sermon. We shall confine ourselves to those which were most obvious and incontrovertible, namely, the prophecies that were accomplished in him, and the miracles that were wrought by him. When they saw that so many, so various, so minute, and (to appearance) so contradictory prophecies all united in him, and were fulfilled by him, they could not doubt but that Jesus was the person to whom they all referred. When, moreover, they beheld such numerous, such undoubted, such benevolent, and such stupendous miracles wrought by him in confirmation of his word, it was impossible for them to withhold their assent to the justice of his claims, unless they were altogether blinded by Satan and their own lusts.]
But we have, if possible, yet clearer evidence than they
[Many of the most remarkable prophecies were either not quite accomplished, or but just accomplished, when our Lord died; so that the fulfilment of them might then be questioned. But who can doubt whether Daniel's weeks of years a have not expired many centuries ago? Who can doubt whether “the sceptre which was not to depart from Judah, till Shiloh should comeb," has not departed long since? Who can doubt whether the second “ Temple to which the Messiah was to come,” has not long since been demolished ?
But a further and most satisfactory proof of Christ's Messiahship is, that his Gospel was propagated so extensively, in so short a time, by such instruments, in opposition to all the prejudices and passions of mankind; and that, though every effort of men and devils has been exerted to root out Christianity from the earth, none have ever been able to prevail against the Church.
On these grounds then, in addition to the former, we may say,
“ We know that the Son of God is come."] Moreover, we know also, II. His character
Many had been the impostors who had laid claim to the title of the Messiah. In opposition to all of these, the Apostle twice designates our Lord as “the true, the only true,” Messiah; and, in the close of the text, specifies more particularly, I. His personal character
[Jesus is “ the true God.” St. John, more than all the Apostles, seems to have been studious to assert the divinity of Christ. With this he opens his history of Jesus: “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God d.” The whole Scriptures also concur to establish this important doctrine, that he who was “a Son born, was also the mighty God;" that he was Emmanuel,
c Mal. üï. 1.
a Dan. ix. 24.
b Gen. xlix. 10.