« PreviousContinue »
ón altars upon solemn days, is done in our closets in our daily offices; that is, God is invocated, and God is appeased, and God is reconciled, and God gives us blessings and the fruits of Christ's passion in the virtue of the sacrificed Lamb; that is, we, believing and praying, are blessed, and sanctified, and saved, through Jesus Christ. So that as we pray, so we communicate; if we pray well, we may communicate well, else at no hand. Now in this, besides that we are to take account of our prayers, by all those measures of the Spirit, which we have learned in the holy Scriptures, there are two great lines of duty, by which we can well examine ourselves in this particular.
1. That our prayers must be the work of our hearts, not of our lips; that is, that we heartily desire what we so carefully pray for: and God knows this is not very ordinary. For besides that we are not in love with the things of God, and have no worthy value for religion, there are many things in our prayer which we ask for, and do not know what to do with, if we had them; and we do not feel any want of them, and we care not whether we have them or no. We ask for the Spirit of God, for wisdom, and for a right judgment.in all things; and yet there are not many in our Christian assemblies, who use to trouble themselves at all with judging concerning the mysteries of godliness. Men pray for humi: lity, and yet at the same time think, that all that which is indeed humility, is a pitiful poorness of spirit, pusillanimity, and want of good breeding. We pray for a contrition and a broken heart; and yet, if we chance to be melancholy, we long to be comforted, and think that the lectures of the cross bring death, and, therefore, are not the way of eternal life. We pray. sometimes, that God may be first and last in all our thoughts; and yet we conceive it no great matter whether he be or no; but we are sure that he is not, but the things of the world do take up the place of God, and yet we hope to be saved for all that, and, consequently, are very indifferent concerning the return of that prayer. We frequently call upon God for his grace, that we may never fall into sin; now in this, besides that we have no hopes to be heard, and think it impossible to arrive to a state of life, in which we shall not commit sins, yet if we do sin, we know
there is a remedy so ready, that we believe, we are not much the worse if we do. Here are prayers enough: but where are the desires all this while? We pray against covetousness, and pride, and gluttony; but nothing that we do but is either covetousness or pride; so that our prayers are terminated upon a word, not upon a thing. We do covetous actions, and speak proud words, and have high thoughts, and do not passionately desire to have affections contrary to them, but only to such notions of the sin as we have entertained, which are snch as will do no real prejudice or mortification to the sin : and 'whatever our prayers are, yet it is certain our desires are so little, and so content with any thing of this nature, that, for very many spiritual petitions, we are indifferent whether they be granted or not.
But if we are poor or persecuted, if we be in fear or danger, if we be heart-sick or afflicted with an uncertain soul, then we are true desirers of relief and mercy; we long for health, and desire earnestly to be safe; our hearts are pinched with the desire, and the sharpness of the appetite is a pain; then we pray, and mind what we do. He that is in fear of death, does not, when he prays for life, think upon his money and his sheep; the entering of a fair woman into the room does not bend his neck, and make him took off from the prince's face, of whom he sues for pardon. And if we had desires as strong as our needs, and apprehensions answerable to our duty, it were not possible that a man should say his prayers and never think of what he speaks: but as our attention is, so is' our desire, trifling and impertinent; it is frighted away like a bird, which fears as much when you come to give it meat, as if you came with a design of death.
When, therefore, you are to give sentence concerning your prayers, your prayer-book is the least thing that is to be examined, —your desires are the principal, for they are fountains both of action and passion. Desire what you pray for, for certain it is, you will pray passionately if you desire fervently. Prayers are but the body of the bird ; desires. are its angel's wings.
; 2. If you will know how it is with you in the matter of your prayers, examine whether or no the form of your prayer be the rule of your life. Every petition to God is a precept
to man; and when in your litanies you pray to be delivered from malice and hypocrisy, from pride and envy, from fomication and every deadly sin ; all that is but a line of duty, and tells us that we must never consent to an act of pride, or a thought of envy, to a temptation of uncleanness, or the besmearings and evil paintings of hypocrisy. But we, when we pray against a sin, think we have done enough, and if we ask for a grace, suppose there is no more required. Now prayer is an instrument of help, a procuring auxiliaries of God, that we may do our duty; and why should we ask for help, if we be not ourselves bound to do the thing? Look not, therefore, upon your prayers as a short method of ease and salvation, but as a perpetual monition of duty; and by what we require of God, we see what he requires of us; and if you want a system or collective body of holy precepts, you need no more but your prayer-book; and if you look upon them first as duties, then as prayers, that is, things fit to be desired, and fit to be laboured for, your prayers will be much more useful; not so often vain, not so subject to illusion, not so destitute of effect, or so failing of the promises. The prayers of a Christian must be like the devotions of the husbandman, God speed the plough ;'—that is, labour and prayer together; a prayer to bless our labour. Thus, then, we must examine :
Is desire the measure of our prayer? and is labour the fruit of our desire ? if so, then what we ask, we shall receive as the gift of God, and the reward of our labour ; but unless this be the state of our prayer, we shall find that the receiving of the sacrament' will be as ineffective, because it will be as imperfect as our prayer. For prayer and communion differ but as great and little in the same kind of duty. Communion is but a great, public, and solemn address and prayer to God, through Jesus Christ : and if we be not faithful in a little, we shall not be intrusted in a greater; he that does not pray holily and prosperously, can never communicate acceptably. This, therefore, must be severely and prudently examined.
But let us remember this, that there is nothing fit to be presented to God, but what is great and excellent ; for nothing comes from him, but what is great and best, and nothing should be returned to him that is little and con-i
temptible in its kind. It is a mysterious elegancy that is in the Hebrew of the Old Testament", -- when the Spirit of God would call any thing very great, or very excellent, he calls it " of the Lord :” so 'the affrightment of the Lord ;' that is, a great affrightment fell upon them. And the fearful fire that fell upon the shepherds and sheep of Jobo, is called the “ fire of God;" and when David took the spear and waterpot from the head of Saul, while he and his guards were sleeping, it is said, that “the sleep of the Lord,” that is, a very great sleep, was fallen upon them. Thus we read of the “flames of God," and "a land of darkness of God," that is, vehement flames, and a land of exceeding darkness :and the reason is, because when God strikes, he strikes vehemently; so that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'-— And on the other side, when he blesses, he blesses excellently; and, therefore, when Naomi blessed Boaz, she said, “ Let him be blessed of the Lord,” that is, according to the Hebrew manner of speaking, “ Let him be exceedingly blessed.” In proportion to all this, whatsoever is offered to God, should be of the best; it should be a devout prayer, a fervent, humble, passionate supplication. He that prays otherwise, must expect the curses and contempt of lukewarmness, and will be infinitely unworthy to come to the holy communion, whither they that come, intend to present their prayers to God in the union of Christ's intercession, which is then solemnly imitated and represented. An indevout prayer can never be joined with Christ's prayers. Fire will easily combine with fire, and flame marries flame; but a cold devotion and the fire of this altar can never be friendly and unite in one pyramid, to ascend together to the regions of God and the element of love. If it be a prayer of God, that is, fit to be intitled, fit to be presented unto him, it must be most vehement and holy. “ The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man" only can be confident to prevail; nothing else can ever be sanctified by a conjunction with this sacrifice of prayer, which must be consumed by a heavenly fire. There is not, indeed, any greater indication of our worthiness or unworthiness to receive the holy communion, than to examine and understand the state of our daily prayer.
a Gen, xxxv. 15.
6 Job, i. 16.
c. Cant. viii. 6.
SECTION V. Of preparatory Examination of ourselves in some other
He that comes to the holy communion, must examine himself concerning his passions; whether that which usually transports him to indecency and shame, to sin and folly, be brought under the dominion of grace, under the command of reason, under the empire of the Spirit. For the passions of the soul are the violences and storms of reason ; neither reason nor grace can be heard to speak when they are loud; and in vain it is that you tell a passionate person of the interests of wisdom and religion. We see it in fools, who have no allay of reason ; their anger is rage, their jealousy is madness, their desires are ravenous, their loves are troublesome and unseasonable, their hopes are groundless but ever confident, their fears are by chance but always without measure: and a fool, when his belly is full, may as soon be persuaded into temperate discourses, as he that is passionate, to be obedient to God and to the rules of his own felicity.
A great fear and a constant virtue are seldom found in one man; and a coward is virtuous by chance, and so long as he is let alone; but unless the fear of God be greater than the fear of man, it is in the power of his enemy, whether that man shall be happy or wise. And so it is in a great or easy anger; every man and every thing can put a peevish person out of his religion. It cannot in these and all the like cases be well, unless by examining we find that our spirit is more meek, our passion easier overcome, and the paroxysms or fits return less frequently, and the symptoms be less malignant. In this instance we must be quick and severe; and begin betimes to take a course with these vermin and vipers of the soul. Suetonius* tells, that when the witty flatterers of Cæsar had observed, that no frogs did breed in his grandfather's villa, which was in the suburbs of Rome, they set themselves to invent a reason which should flatter the prince, and boldly told abroad, that when young Octavius was a
• Quum primum fari cæpisset, in avito suburbano obstrepentes forte ranas silere jussit: atque ex eo negantar ibi ranæ coaxare. - Octav, 94. B. Crus. vol. i. p.-360. (J. R. P.)