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intention of a Christian suppliant; nor any part of a Christian prayer.
The true end of reciting our wants before God is, doubtless, far distant from any thing, that is even glanced at in the objection. Unquestionably it is the same end with that, which we propose in confessing our sins; viz. the production of proper views in our own minds. It is to awaken in ourselves a strong sense of our feebleness, our guilt, our dependence on God for all good, and our indebtedness to him for every blessing which we receive. By such views, deeply impressed, we are more happily prepared for the reception of blessings, than we otherwise can be. We are rendered humble ; submissive; affected with the greatness of our necessities, the importance of those supplies, which we ask, and the glory of that goodness, by which such wants of such beings are supplied. This state of mind is the bappiest of all dispositions for the reception of mercies; and is inwrought effectually in us, only by prayer. Unless man, therefore, has an interest in not acquiring this disposition, the objection is groundless.
3. It is further objected, that, as God is infinitely wise and good, whether we consider him as having predetermined all things, or not, his wisdom and goodness will prompt him to give us whatever is proper to be given, and to withhold whatever is not, equally with, and without, our prayers. Our prayers, therefore, must at the best be useless. “ We cannot,” says the objector, “ prevent, change, or influence, the dictates of Infinite wisdom and goodness by our prayers. If we could ; it would be wrong, and undesirable; and ought plainly neither to be done, nor wished.”
All this is readily admitted : and, were the design, or the nature, of prayer such, as is here supposed, the impropriety of praying would, I presume, be also adınitted. Certainly, it could never be a proper design, in any creature, to attempt a change in the dictates of Infinite wisdom and goodness.
But it may be very proper for infinite wisdom to bestow on a humble suppliant that, which it would very properly withhold from him, who refuses to pray. The question is not, here, concerning what infinite wisdom will, or will not, give; but concerning the persons, to whom it will give. Infinite wisdom may bestow all its favours on those, who are willing to ask for them; and not on those, who are unwilling : on those, who feel their dependence upon itself; not on those, who say in their conduct, What is the Almighty, that we should serve him ? and what profil shall we have, if we pray unto him? on those, who cheerfully, and implicitly, subject themselves to its dictates; not on those, who speculate ingeniously concerning them.
Finally; Infinite wisdom may with propriety communicate its blessings to those, who by such means, as are in their power, become prepared to receive them with a spirit of gratitude, reverence, and obedience; and may with equal propriety withhold then, at the same time, from such, as are too proud, too indolent, too indifferent, or too worldly-minded, to regard them with serious attention, or to receive them with a grateful or reverential spirit. Until all this can be disproved, the objection will stand for nothing. But this can never be disproved. Reason declares it all as her own decision; and Revelation places it beyond a cavil, or a doubt. In the Scriptures we are taught expressly, that such is the real system of Infinite wisdom and goodness; and that
; blessings actually descend only as answers to prayer.
4. It is further objected, that to suppose our prayers sufficiently efficacious to procure blessings for ourseldes, and especially for others, indicates tanity and presumption.
If we thought our prayers sufficiently meritorious, in the sight of God, to deserve such blessings, as are bestowed either on ourselves, or on others; there would be some ground for this objection. But when we pray, as an act of obedience to his will, it is obviously unfounded. There can be neither presumption, nor vanity, in believing, that God is pleased with obedience, and that he will bless those who obey. God has commanded all men to pray to him. There is no presumption in believing this precept. He has declared, that faithful prayer is pleasing to him. There is no presumption in believing his declaration. He has promised to bless those, who thus pray. Without presumption we may rely on his promise.
He has commanded us to pray for all men ; and has promised to answer such prayers, when faithfully presented. In the Scriptures he has recorded numerous instances, in which he has actually answered such prayers by giving blessings to those, for whom they were asked. To obey this command, to confide in this promise, and to receive this testimony, is neither vain, nor presumptuous. The contrary conduct is chargeable with this criminality: for the objector supposes, that God will give him blessings in a way, directly opposed to that, in which alone he has encouraged men to expect them.
But further, does not God make one man the instrument of blessings to another; to many; to thousands ; to millions; and that in an immense variety of ways? How does it appear, that
, the heart, the desires, the supplications, of a good man may not be the means of such blessings, as truly, as properly, and as often, as his voice, or his hands ? All these blessings come from God. Will not he, who seeth not as man seeth, but looketh on the heart, as willingly regard the virtuous efforts, of which he is there a witness, as those of the bands, or the tongue? How few blessings do we enjoy, in which others have not been more or less instrumental! For our daily food and raiment, nay, for our very being, we are indebted to those, who have lived in every age of time. In the same manner we are now reaping the benefits, flowing from the prayers of good men in all past ages. The salvation of every Christian is a direct answer to the prayer of Christ. John xvii. 21, 22.
These are all the material objections, usually made against prayer, as a duty of man: I mean, all which are customarily ex. hibited, as material, by the objectors themselves. If the observations, which have here been made in answer to them, bave the same weight in the minds of others, as in my own; it will be seen, that they have no solid basis. Notwithstanding the speciousness, which in the eyes of some individuals they have seemed to wear, the encouragements to this duty, mentioned in these discourses, stand altogether anassailed, and possessed of their whole strength. The objectors have conceived erroneously both of the nature, and design, of prayer; and misapprehended the proper influence of the several things, from which they derive their supposed difficulties.
Let every one of my audience, then, go fearlessly, and constantly, to the duty of prayer ; and be perfectly assured, that, if he prays faithfully, he will not pray in vain. Let him remember, that prayer is a duty, instituted by God; that he cannot but honour his own institution; and that he cannot but be pleased with those, by whom it is obeyed. To pray is to obey God; to please him; to honour him. Those, who honour him, he will honour; while those, who despise him, shall be lightly esteemed. He has set before you every motive to induce you to perform this duty : commands ; examples, particularly that of Christ; promises; instances of the actual and wonderful efficacy of prayer; and the clearest testimonies of his own approbation. At the same time, while he has taught you, that no blessing is given but in answer to prayer, he has assured you also, that all good, temporal and eternal, descends as its proper answer from Heaven. Nothing has he left untried to persuade you to this duty.
With his good pleasure, all your own interests conspire in urging you to pray. Prayer will make you daily better, wiser, and lovelier in his sight, by cherishing in you those views and emotions, which constitute the character of a good man. It will soothe every tumult of your bosoms; allay your fears; comfort your sorrows; invigorate your hopes ; give you peace in hand, and anticipate glory to come. It will restrain you from sin; strengthen you against temptation; recal you from wandering ; give life and serenity to your consciences; furnish you with clearer views concerning your duty; alarm you concerning your danger; and inspire you with ardour, confidence, and delight, in the Christian course.
In prayer, God will meet you, and commune with you face to face, as a man with his friend. He will lift upon you the light of his reconciled countenance; will put joy and gladness in your hearts; and will awaken in you the spirit of thanksgiving and the voice of melody. When you pass through the waters, he will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you ; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall the filame kindle on you: for he is the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. In an acceptable time he will hear you, and in a day of salvation will he help you. The mountains will, indeed, depart, and the hills be remoded; but, if you seek him faithfully, his kindness shall not depart from you, nor his covenant of peace be removed. Scek, then, the Lord, while he may be found: Call ye upon him, while he is near. When you, call, he will answer; and when you cry unto him, he will say, Here I am.