« PreviousContinue »
to perform this duty. Whence then do you know, that you cannot pray? How do you know, that God will not willingly do for you whatever you find it impossible, or difficult, to do for yourselves? He is infinitely willing to give, in answer to your pray. ers. Whence have you learned, that he is not equally willing to befriend you in your attempts to pray?
The truth is, you do not choose to make such attempts. You have wants endlessly numerous, and incalculably important. They might be supplied: but you will not ask God to supply thens. You have souls of infinite value. They might be saved: but you will not ask God to save them. You are sinners, and exposed to perdition. From these tremendous evils you might be delivered: but will not ask God to deliver you. You are made candidates for Heaven; and might be received into that glorious world of everlasting joy. Rather than pray, you choose to perish.
All blessings are opened for your enjoyment. The condition on which you may obtain them all, is to ask. No sacrifice, expense, or loss, is demanded of you. None will be incurred. On the contrary, praying is in itself unspeakable gain, and solid pleasure ; higher, more rational, more unmingled pleasure, than you ever found, or ever will find, in sin. The condition, therefore, is a gainful condition of a reward without bounds, and without end. What, then, is your conduct, but supreme and unmingled folly ?
Fools, saith Solomon, despise wisdom and instruction, and hale knowledge. This wisdom, of supreme import, has been taught Lo you a thousand times. Hitherto you have despised and hated it. The evil of neglecting prayer has been often urged on you; but hitherto it has been urged in vain. Hitherto you have deceived yourselves with the folly of believing, that God will bless you, while you refuse to pray to him : in other words, that he will bless you, in direct contradiction to his own express declarations. What specimen of folly can be greater! That you should be thus deceived, with your present character, is not-strange: since the Scriptures inform us, that it is the nature of folly to be deceitful. That you should think yourselves right in these views, and in the conduct which grows out of them, is
as little strange : for, persons of this character, according to the same divine testimony, usually think themselves right. But let me remind you from the same sacred book, that Fools die for want of wisdom. In your present course, you are in the road to death. For want of wisdom, only, do you continue in it a single day. Should the same folly be prolonged; the period is not distant, when you will die for ever.
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.
THE OBJECTIONS TO PRAYER CONSIDERED.
JOB xxi. 15.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him; and what profit
shall we have, if we pray unto him?
THE five first subjects, originally proposed as themes of discourse concerning the duty of prayer, have been examined at length in the four preceding Sermons. The sixth, viz. Objections against this duty, will now occupy our attention.
In the Text, a general objection is made against all obedience to God; and is professedly founded on his character. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? There is nothing in the character of God, nor in our relation to him, which requires our obedience to his will. We are neither obliged by any duty, nor drawn by any interest, to his service. This impious senti. ment is exhibited in the context as the sentiment of abandoned men only; and is plainly of a nature too impious to be uttered by any other. The following one, proceeding from the same mouth also, is with perfect propriety exhibited to us as resulting from the same spirit. Yet there are multitudes, who are far from deserving the character of profligacy, who yet say concerning God, What profit shall we have, if we pray to him? This objection, it will be observed, is an universal one. What profit shall we have? that is, we shall not be profited at all, either in our minds, or in our circumstances. We shall not be profited by the proper influence of prayer on ourselves, nor by its efficacy in procuring blessings from God. All objections against prayer may be justly regarded, as being summed up in this single question.
It cannot, however, be expected, that on this occasion every objection, which an irreligious mind can devise against this duty, will be taken up, and refuted. Several such objections bave been anticipated in the preceding discourses. Of such as remain, I shall examine those only, which may be supposed to have some real weight in the mind of a sober man. These, so far as I recollect them, respect the
The two first of these subjects are commonly united in the scheme of the objector; and may, therefore, with propriety, be here considered together. If God be a changeable being ; although he may have predetermined all things, yet he may be supposed to alter his plans in consequence of requests, presented to him by his Intelligent creatures ; and may, therefore, be addressed as a changeable being. On the other hand, if God be immutable, and yet have formed no system of things in bis own mind; he may, perhaps, constitute his designs, from time to time, with some degree of conformity to their supplications.
The first objection, which I shall mention, and which is derived from these sources, is usually stated in terms like the following:
“ Prayer is fruitless, or, in the language of the Text, unprofitable, because all things are determined from everlasting by an immutable God, and will, therefore, take place according to his deternination. Hence our prayers, making no alteration in any thing, must be an idle, perhaps an impious, service: idle, because they can effect nothing; impious, because they are expressions of our desires for blessings, which God has not chosen to give. If God has determined to give us these blessings; we shall receive them without prayer. If he has determined not to give them, we shall not receive them, however fervently we may pray. So far, then, as we pray for things, which God has determined to give, our prayers are useless. So far as we pray for those, which he has determined not to give, our prayers are directly opposed to his pleasure.”
I have endeavoured to state this objection at full length, because I wish to present it with all the force, which it has, or can have, in the mind of the objector. To the several things, contained in it, I answer,
1. There cannot possibly be any impiety in prayer, offered up in ihe manner, stated in these discourses.
The original definition, which I gave of prayer, and with which all the subsequent accounts of it have accorded, is that of the Westminster Assembly of Divines : That prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will. To desire that, and that only, which is agreeable to the will of God, cannot be impious. Evangelical prayer supposes in its very nature, that we ask either for those things, for which the Scriptures have expressly permitted us to pray; or for those, which we professedly submit to his will in our petitions. In this conduct, impiety cannot exist. On the contrary, no human being was ever the subject of piety, who did not pursue this conduct.
The objection is now reduced to a single article ; viz. The fruitlessness of prayer; or its inefficacy to change the purposes of God, and therefore to procure blessings. To this I answer,
2. This objection lies, with exactly the same force, against every other human effort, as against prayer.
If the predetermination and immutability of God render it improper for men to pray, because their prayers cannot change his purposes; then the same things must render it equally improper for men to plough, sow, reap, or make any other effort for any end whatever. All these, without the divine blessing, will be in