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felt; and, wherever it is felt, is benign and happy. Hence the Scriptures insist so abundantly on the performance of this duty; and, to secure their benevolent purpose, multiply, every where, commands, examples, and promises.
From this summary and imperfect account of the Usefulness of Prayer to Individuals, I remark,
1. That he, who does not habitually pray to God, cannot be a Christian.
God has commanded us to pray to him; and is pleased to be inquired of by his creatures for all the good, which they need. He, who does not pray, violates continually a plain command of the Scriptures ; and proves himself indifferent to the great and comprehensive duty of obeying his Maker. But this is a contradiction to the whole Christian character.
This, however, is not the only ground of the conclusion that, on which I meant principally to insist at the present time. In the character, and circumstances, of a Christian, is laid the most solid foundation of habitual prayer. His sins perpetually present to him the infinite necessity of forgiveness and sanctification. His love to God, and his good-will to mankind, excite in him, by their very nature, unceasing desires, and generate vigorous efforts, to increase this Evangelical character. His faith in Christ, and his disposition to obey his commands, require continual additions of strength ; and the peculiar consolation, peace, and hope, which he finds in prayer, and which without prayer he cannot find, call unceasingly upon him to be faithful, steadfast, and fervent, in this duty. A hungry man might as well be expected to abstain from food; or a thirsty man from drink; as a Christian from prayer. Prayer is the breath, on which Christianity lives; and from which it derives peculiarly its power, activity, and enjoyment. Mark the manner, in which David describes his distress in being cut off from the solemn services of the tabernacle; and the relief, the comfort, the strength, and the joy, which he found when he drew nigh to that holy place. Mark the discourses of our Saviour on this subject; and the most edifying example of performing this duty, which he has lost on record for our imitation. Attend diligently to the commands, exhortations, and encouragements, given by St. Paul, to engage us to continue always in all prayer. Here you will sec with the most certain evidence how naturally, and how irresistibly, holiness prompts to the performance of this duty. Such is the spirit, by which all Christians are governed, and without which no man can be a Christian. By our fruits are we known both to ourselves and to others. Prayer is the prominent fruit of the Christian spirit: and, where this fruit is not found, it will be in vain to search for the tree.
From these observations we easily learn the reason, why hypocrites rarely continue steadfast for any length of time in sccret prayer. A sinner, under strong convictions of sin, will betake himself of course to his closet. Why will he do this? He is still a sinner, and a stranger to the Evangelical character. He finds no part of the Christian's pleasure in things divine; in obedience to God, or the contemplation of his perfections, commands, or designs; in his Sabbath, Word, or Ordinances. Of that relish for spiritual objects, which is implanted in Regeneration, and which constitutes what is called the spiritual mind, he is wholly destitute. In seeking salvation, however, he is altogether in earnest; and in seeking the forgiveness of his sins, and the sanctification of his heart, as indispensable means of this most interesting attainment. Hence he prays. But to this character the hypocrite is a stranger; and feels not, therefore, these inducements to prayer.
Still more is he a stranger to the views, affections, and enjoymients, of a Christian. For spiritual objects he has no relish, no desire. In the character of God, the character of Christ, and the nature of religion, he finds no pleasure, and secs no profit ; except so far as hypocrisy may increase bis reputation, and promote his selfish purposes. For this, his governing end, he will often appear more engaged in religion, when he expects to be seen by men, than Christians themselves. In public and family prayer he will frequently be exact, and abundant; because this
conduct will gain him the character, which he covets. Here others see him. Here, therefore, he finds an advantage, sufficient to excite his perseverance in these external services.
But in secret prayer there can be no gain, beside that, which is spiritual and immortal. No reputation can spring from conduct, unknown to men. If, therefore, the hypocrite begins the performance of this duty; he will usually soon desist; because on the one hand, he has no anxiety about salvation, and on the other, no delight in the duty. Accordingly, Job says of the bypocrite, Will he delight himself in the Almighty ? Will he always call upon God? that is, he will not always call upon God. He will, at times, call upon God for a little period; but will cease, of course, from this duty, after that period is ended; because he expects from it neither profit nor pleasure.
2. From these observations it is evident also, that he, who does not pray, is guilty of pre-eminent folly.
Prayer is the only communication between mankind and their Maker, and the only means of obtaining blessings from Him. The man, who refuses, or neglects, to pray, voluntarily cuts himself off, therefore, from all hope of good. The easiest, least expensive, least burdensome, possible mode of acquiring good, is to ask for it. God has been pleased to constitute this the only mode of obtaining it from Him. He therefore, who does not pray, cannot rationally hope for any blessing.
To renounce all good, when it is attainable by any means, however difficult, is the conduct of a fool. To renounce it, when the means are the easiest possible, is the conduct of a madman. Such a fool, such a mad-man, is he, who neglects prayer. To pray, costs neither money, pains, nor time. Why do multitudes in this house neglect to pray? The true explanation of this mysterious, sottish violation of every dictate of reason, conscience, and Revelation, is, that all these persons hate their duty. They sin against God, and wrong their ozon souls ; they hate him, and love death.
Having considered the Usefulness of Prayer to Individuals, I shall now, according to the scheme proposed, examinc its Usefulness to Families.
The Text, as will be seen by attending to its connection with the preceding verse, contains a command, in which we are required to pray always, ev navsi iw xaigw, at every season, with all prayer ; that is, with prayer of every kind; or prayer offered up to God in every form. By this precept, then, mankind are commanded to pray at every season, suited to the performance of this duty; and with such prayer, as becomes the circumstances, wants, and characters, of those, by whom the duty is to be performed.
That Family prayer is included in this general direction, as one kind of prayer especially suited to the wants and circumstances of mankind, will not be questioned by most of those, who profess the religion of the Gospel. Nor will it be doubted, that
every morning, and every evening, presents a proper season for the performance of this religious service.
In examining the proposed subject of discourse, it will be useful to consider,
The Advantages of performing,
The foundation of Family prayer is laid in the intimate connection of those, who are members of these little societies. This connection necessarily creates a variety of interests, wants, enjoyments, and sufferings, which are common to them all. United in all these concerns in a very intimate manner, the several members of a family find a common interest in unitedly supplicating upon them the blessing of God, without which neither prosperity nor relief can be expected. A common interest is the source of all communion in the worship of God, whether in families, particular churches, nations, or the Christian world at large. Nor is there any reason against family worship, which does not lie against the worship of churches, and larger Christian communities. Indeed, ancient churches were not unfrequently formed of single families.
Among the Advantages, which attend Family prayer, I shall mention the following.
1. The intimate communion, which exists in this worship, naturally renders our devotion intense, and exalted.
Religion is in its nature social. Worship, particularly, is naturally social. Every man, possessed of the spirit of the Gospel, feels an interest in those things, in which others are alike interested with him, which it is difficult for him to feel in things, even of the same nature, which concern himself only. Nay. selfish as the human heart is, mankind are naturally more affected, on many occasions, by those concerns, in which they share with others, than in those, which are merely personal. He, who would fly, when himself only was attacked, would fight, when an enemy assaulted his family. Many a slothful man has become industrious, many a prodigal prudent, many a parsimonious man generous, and many a light-minded man sober, in Vol. V.