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prayer have a soothing and sanctifying influence upon our minds. And, Secondly, That the hope of an eventual answer, even if very reinote, amply repays us for all the time and thought we devote to prayer. These results we hold to be profit enough, both to bind and encourage us to call upon God as long as we “live.”
We can, also, say something of "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” which make us very happy whilst they last; and the influence of which is very holy, even after the sensible enjoyment is lost. It is not, therefore, improper, nor unwise, nor unnatural to ask-Is this all the profit that can be attained ? It is not being over curious, even to inquire—What is the nature of the connexion between prayer and the Divine Presence; between prayer and the Divine Purposes; between prayer and the general principles of the Divine Government? A thoughtful man can hardly avoid such questions. They force themselves upon him, in the best, as well as in the worst, states of his mind. Nor is the fact, that they do not occur to all, nor even to many, of the prayerful, any reason why he should evade them. That they do not perplex the ordinary followers of Christ, is a good reason why he should not attach undue importance to such questions, nor be disconcerted if he find himself unable to answer them all to his own satisfaction ; but no valid reason for hushing them up, or hurrying them over. Prayer effects something in the Divine mind. If it had no influence upon God, it would have no place in his plans. But as it effects no change in His purposes—what is that influence ?
It has been well said—that prayer is as much a part of the Divine purpose, as its answer is. This fact does not, however, clear up the difficulty to any great extent.
Indeed, it gives new point to the question—Why is prayer thus combined with its answer, in the purposes of God?
Now it is easy to see that, on our account, it would be unwise to have them separated. The moral influence of prayer upon us, is itself almost as valuable, and altogether as necessary, as the blessings which form the answers to it. But the real question is-why is it necessary on God's account? That our minds ought to be brought to, and kept in, an asking frame, is self-evident. This arrangement carries its own reasons upon its surface, to all who look at it with their own eyes. But, the DIVINE MIND! What is the influence of prayer on its giving frame ?
Now, whatever it be, one thing is certain ; God does not comfort nor sanctify the prayerless. Whatever else He do for them, apart from being asked, this He does not. All the unasked-for mercy or grace which He exercises towards sinners, has for its first object, to render them suppliants. Whenever He is “found of them who sought him not,” He is found as an accusing Judge, and not as a consoling Father, in the first instance. Even in the extraordinary case of Paul, until he began to pray, no assurance was given to him on the subject of his own pardon. He was called before, but “the hope of his calling" came after. These are facts, whatever be the philosophy of them.
Now the general reason is very obvious : the final object of the divine purposes being tho restoration of the soul to the divine image, and thus to eternal communion with God, the first steps towards that object cannot be otherwise than by prayer. Nothing else could be the beginning of that good work” of grace, which ends in glory. There is, therefore, just the same reason for connecting all the present manifestations of the divine favour and presence with prayer, as for connecting all the future with praise. Finite spirits must for ever require some medium of communion with the infinite Spirit; and on earth, prayer is just as suitable to that end, as praise is in heaven, and must have just the same kind of influence in procuring divine favour here, that praise has in prolonging it there.
Now, we never dream of asking why the bliss of heaven depends upon praise. And yet it is self-evident that it could not continue, if gratitude came to an end. Whatever, therefore, be the purposes of God in relation to eternity, their fulfilment cannot be independent of continued worship. It is the natural medium of their accomplishment—the only spirit and posture suited to them. Just so is prayer, in relation to the divine purposes which belong to time. And, therefore, all questions as to how they would go on if prayer stopped on earth, are as unwise as it would be to ask what would be the effect if praise stopped in heaven? It is part of the divine plan, that neither shall stop.
In regard to the influence of prayer upon the eternal mind, it is more easy to form just conceptions of it, than to find judicious language to express them in. For we have proof, yea, demonstration, that the mind of God can be influenced by moral reasons. The exercise of mercy in answer to prayer, is just as rational as the exercise of judgment against blasphemy. It is just as natural, under mediatorial government, that God should love prayer, as that he should hate sin under any modification of his moral government.
Now we are neither staggered nor confused, when blasphemy influences the mind of God to punish. This accords with all our ideas of propriety. And as a devotional spirit is as much in harmony with all His character, as a blaspheming spirit is hostile to it all, it is just as natural that He should be pleased with the former, as that He should angry
with the latter. It is, however, the Atonement that furnishes the grand illustration of the way in which moral reasons influence the mind and nieasures of God. Now the atonement produces no change of His feelings or purposes towards man. It legitimated, not originated, the exercise of His love and mercy. It is as much a proof of His natural benevolence, as of His moral justice. It did not render Him merciful, but it was the only honourable medium of showing mercy. Without that satisfaction, we have no reason to suppose that our salvation could be morally possible. The atonement had, therefore, a mighty influence on the Eternal Mind, in
asmuch as it removed all moral and legal hinderances to the reign of grace. Now, as all real prayer is both founded on the Cross of Christ and the fruit of that Cross, its influence on the mind of God is just the influence of the atonement itself; for it is that which prayer sues out and depends on. Thus, by appreciating, admiring, and loving, and pleading the sacrifice of Christ, our prayers fall in with the divine will, and glory, and purposes, just as that sacri. fice did. Like it, they effect no change on the Eternal Mind, but they harmonize with the unchangeableness of its purposes :-a devotional spirit being the nearest approach to the spirit in which Christ glorified God“ in the highest.”
Besides, all danger of praying in opposition to the divine purposes is provided against, both in the rule and in the spring of prayer. We qualify our petitions by an express submission to the will of God—which is the same thing as His purpose ; for His purposes are merely the forms of His will.
And when prayer is for a holy salvation through the blood of the Lamb, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit's work on the heart; and, therefore, never can clash with the divine
purposes, “ because the Spirit maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” We are, therefore, going along the very line of all the purposes which can affect ourselves, whenever the Spirit helps our infirmities to plead or groan for the divine favour and image. Every holy and spiritual desire in our minds, is according to the purposes of the Eternal Mind. Nothing, therefore, is more unwise or unwarranted than to suspect that there is or can be, any purpose against the salvation of one, whom the Spirit has inclined and taught to cry mightily for salvation from sin and hell. “God is ONE;" and, therefore, the desires awakened by His Spirit must be the same as His own designs.
This is a Bethel-ladder on which we may ascend and descend without presumption or hazard. For as every good and perfect gift cometh down from the hand of an unchangeable Father, so every honest desire for these gifts is from an unchangeable Spirit. For, where else could they come from? Neither human culture nor human experị. ence has ever originated in the human mind, the love of holiness. The history both of the world and the church, equally confirms and illustrates this fact. A praying man could no more be formed by human means, than a praising angel; and, therefore, holy desires can no more clash with the divine purposes, than the hallelujahs of angels can do so.
Let this general principle, then, be a settled point, and we shall soon see how sensible enjoyment may be found in prayer, and how prayer may rise unto communion with God. Now we have the basis or principle of both, even before we retire to pour out our hearts unto God. We carry into our closet a portion of sensible enjoyment to begin prayer with, although we have not always sense enough to be so aware of it, as to make the most of it. For, is it not delightful to be conscious that, at length, we do care for the things which belong to our eternal peace ? —that we do long for the divine favour and image ?--that we are willing and desirous to be saved in God's own way?—that we dare not neglect the great salvation as we once did ?
If, indeed, all or any of this pleasing consciousness were made a meritorious plea for mercy or grace, we might well tremble at it, instead of taking encouragement from it. But as it all unites to concentrate all our hopes upon the Cross, we may well and safely rejoice, “ that whereas we were blind, we now see.”.
It is, therefore, by forgetting that we carry to the throne of grace some grounds and elements of sensible comfort, that we so often leave it comfortless. We thus grieve the Spirit of God by ingratitude ; for it is ungrateful not to remember and record, whenever we bow at the mercy-seat, the mercy we have already received. It is not smull, if we cannot be happy without prayer. It is not doubtful, if we hate sin and mourn over the plagues of our hearts. It is