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As a mean of exciting this expectation, we should consider, and endeavour to realize, the gracious characters under which the Great Object of our devotion stands revealed; in connection with those divine declarations, precepts, and promises, which have a special regard to prayer. His GRACIOUS CHARACTERS. Such, for instance, as the following. Our Father that is in heaven - The God of all grace_The God of all comfort - The Father of mercies—Jehovah; pardoning iniquity; transgression, and sin--He that heareth prayer.—DECLARATIONS, PRECEPTS, AND PROMISES;, of which the following are a specimen. Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it-Ask, and ye shall receive : seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you—We have boldness, and access with confidence, by the faith of Christ–Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need-Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus; by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say,. his flesh; and having an High-Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.-These, and similar characters of Him whom we adore; these, and similar sayings of inspiration; together with numerous recorded facts, relative to the success of prayer; fully warrant our expectation of a gracious answer, in due season, when drawing near to the Divine Father, in the name of Jesus. Nay, such is the provision which sovereign grace has made, to animate prayer
with hope, that the vilest wretch upon earth, when from the heart he cries, God be merciful, through the atonement, to me a sinner! has reason to expect the divine Amen to his prayer.
Here, however, to prevent mistakes, I would subjoin the following cautions. Let none ima. gine, that their obligation to pray, arises merely from the reason there is to expect, that God will graciously answer their petitions. No: for though that reason of expectation be a delightful encouragement, and the grand motive, to pray; it is far from being the ground of obligation to bow at our Maker's footstool. The infinite excellence of God; his absolute dominion over us; and our entire dependence upon him, for life, blessedness, and being; constitute the ground of obligation to worship him. Are we indulged with solid reason to expect the Amen of God himself to our prayers? it is of his mere, sovereign mercy, which might have been entirely withheld from us, without in the least enfeebling the true ground of our obligation to adore him, as the Creator and moral Governor of the universe. Awful, therefore, is the state of that man, who, having the exercise of his rational powers, lives without prayer! for he is a practical Atheist. Implicitly renouncing the divine dominion, and tacitly denying the God that is above; he virtually claims independency on every invisible
power. Making his own inclination the rule, and his own pleasure the end of his conduct; the language of his heart is that of the wicked, in the book of Job: What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him ? - Independently, then,
of that provision which grace has made for the holiness and happiness of sinners, by the atonement and intercession of Jesus Christ; by the aids of the Divine Spirit in devotional duties; and by giving substantial reason to expect a condescending answer to our petitions; we are bound to revere, to love, and to adore, the Eternal Sovereign.
Again: Let none of you consider this expectation as implying, that the Amen of God, when granted to our prayers, will always coincide with the time and manner which we prefer. Against a supposition of this kind the Scripture guards, by both doctrine and facts. “By doctrine. So, for instance, our Lord spake a parable, concerning the importunate widow, and the unrighteous judge, professedly to inculcate the necessity of perseverance in prayer, until the blessing solicited be conferred.* But it is expectation of receiving the benefit requested, that must nerve the soul for such perseverance in
prayer: because despondency cuts the sinews of application.-By facts. Thus, for example, Paul reiterated his earnest supplica. tion to the Lord, that the thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan, might depart from him; and was graciously answered. But not by the immediate removal of that which so deeply distressed him. For the answer of Jesus was, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.f This, doubtless, in the words of David, strengthened him with strength in his soul, to bear with patient : submission the extremely
+ 2 Cor. xi. 7, 8, 9.
* Luke xviii. 1-8. 1 Psalm cxxxvïïi. 3.
painful trial: and shows, that God may annex his Amen to our prayers, while the temptations, or the burdens, under which we labour, continue. Yes, if he invigorate faith, increase patience, and enliven hope of an happy issue, he not only answers prayer, but gives an evidence of it; even though the subject of a Christian's complaint remain in all its force.
Once more: Let none of you expect, that God will say Amen to your petitions for the subduing of strong corruptions, for spiritual peace, or for holy joy; except those petitions be connected with an habitual disposition to watch; to use the appointed means of religious improvement; and to reduce your supplications to holy practice. It is a good saying of an eminent author, He who prays as he ought, will endeavour to live as he prays.'—Now he who acts according to this rule, will carefully watch over the secret operations of his own mind, the affections of his heart, and the various branches of his conduct. These he will frequently compare with his confessions, petitions, and thanksgivings, at the throne of grace. By this comparison he will daily receive a variety of salutary reproofs, that will have a happy tendency, to increase watchfulness, and promote humility; to strengthen the spirit of self-denial, and excite fervour in devotion. . The utility of prayer, even in this respect, though probably much overlooked by many professors, is of great importance.--As to spiritual peace, and holy joy, our Lord has implicitly forbidden his disciples to expect them, except in connection with obedience to his com. mands. For thus he speaks: If any man serve me,
hin will my Father honour-He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that lovetla me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him--If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.* Sublime and beatifying enjoyments are here promised: which are to be expected -not by nominal Christians at large—nor by superficial professors of the genuine gospel-nor even by real saints, except in proportion as they live by faith on the Son of God; as they are diligent in the use of spiritual means; as they are watchful, circumspect, and self-denying ; as they sincerely aim at impartiality and uniformity in their obedience to Jesus Christ; and as they are spiritually-minded.t We should never forget, that, whatever words we use in prayer, God interprets them according to the secret desires of our hearts.
Having considered the significant and solemn So be it, as implicitly directing us to pray with understanding, with fervour, and with expectation, we now proceed to show,
SECONDLY, That the same comprehensive and emphatical term suggests a variety of salutary cautions and keen reproofs, with regard to social prayer. This it does, both to him that leads the worship, and to them that unite in it.
To him that leads the worship.
Because it appears, that those for whom he is the mouth in prayer, are under obligation so to
* John xii. 26. xiv, 19, 23. + See Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners, Works, vol. ii. 226_228.