« AnteriorContinua »
the great Eads of his Providence, in sending his Son, and calling us to Repentance; and that ihey are a rea. Jonable Service. The general Method which I shall observe, will be to set forth the Nature, Use, and Efficacy of these Appointments. By the First I shall shew what the Initicution means ; by the Second, the Reasons why it was appointed; by the Third, the Encouragement we have to a diligent Observance of it. And because a mere external Compliance with there Institutions will neither answer the End of their Appointment, nor procure io us the Benefits intended by them, it will therefore be necessary, in the last Place, that I hew, what are those Qualifications which are previously requisite to fit and prepare us to perform them in a worthy and acceptable Manner. I shall treat first of Prayer, because that is virtually contained under the other, and, in the Order of Nature, antecedent to it.
The End of Prayer is to recognize God as the Crea. tor and Governor of the World. It is not to make known to him our Wants, which he understandech becter than we do ourselves; but it is to acknowledge, and make solemn Profession, that he is the Author of all Good to us, and that as we are indebted to him for what we have, so what we want mult come from him. This news, that God's Knowledge of our Wants is no Reason why we ought not to pray, supposing that any good Account can be given why God hath commanded us to recognize him as the Author of all Good; and there is this natural Reason to be given for it, that this constant Acknowledgment of God's sovereign Dominion, which Prayer implies, is a constant Call to Duty. For we can never reflect that God is our Crea. tor, without considering, at the same Time, that we owe him Obedience. It is this Sense of God prevail. ing in our Minds, that is the Foundation of all Religion. For what other Reason have we to yield Obe. dience to God than this, that to him we owe ourselves, and all that is dear and valuable to us, the Blesungs of chis Life, and she Glories of the next? If we were 6
ourselves the Authors of our own Good, we Mhould owe Obedience to none : Or if there were any other Beirg wh ch could claim a Partnership with God in the Benefi's which we receive, he also would have a Righe io be a Sharer with him in the Homage that we pay : Bus if we are God's, and not our own; if he is oui Bene. factor, and none else independent of him ; the Interence is ealy and nacural, ihat he has eminently, and above all, a Right to our Obedience; and that there. fore we are not to displease him in pleasing ourselves ; no, not in pleasing the whole World; for his is the whole World, and he is the Lord of all, because he is the Maker and Preserver of all.
This is a Conclusion which naturally arises in every Man's Mind, upon the Confideration of the being and governing Providence of God. But if we grow un. mindful of thele Things, Religion will be lost; and this may easily be ; for God does not make bimself known to us in such a Way as to force himself upon us whether will or no.
If he were to be seen wich our bodily Eyes, and we could behold him from the Throne of his Glory, dealiig out his Blessings among us with an indulgent and plenteous Hands; fending us Food, fending us Rament, sending us all Things; in not knowing him, we should be more senseleis than the Brutes; for the Ox knoweth bis Owner, and the Als his Mofier's Crib. But because we are here to walk by Faith, and not by Sight, we therefore want some exernal Warnings to put us upon making use of our Reason and considering what we are, and to wbom we are indebted for all we have, and all we hope for : And what more effectual Course could God have taken to beget in us an habi:ual Sense and Conviction of this, than by making it our Duty, that so often as we feel our own Wants, so often we should bear Witness, with our own Mouths, of his Sovereign Power and Goodness, and of our Insuffici. ency to do any Thing without him? I do not say that Prayer is a Means absolutely necessary to put us in Mind that we are Creatures depending upon God. All the Works of Providence which we see about us, are an
Evidence of this great Truth, which we are at all Times at Liberty to take Notice of, if we find ourselves so disposed. But to secure this Temper of Mind, and to make it familiar to us, we should find it no easy * Matter, if there were nothing to check that natural Propensity, which we all of us feel, to let ourselves loose to those more pleasing Reflections, which Sense and Paffion are ever apt to throw in our Way.
This (if there was nothing more in it) would account for an Observation no less true than common, That in Proportion as Men accullom themselves to neglect their Prayers, they grow more loose and careless in their general Behaviour. For through Lack of these Calls to Thought and Consideration, the Mind insensibly fteals away from the Creator to the Creature. And for the self-fame Reason, bad Men are never less at Ease, than when they are obliged, on fome worldly Views, to do Homage to their Maker, or rather to make a Show and Appearance of doing it ; for they muft be quite ftupid, and pait feeling, if the Solemnity of Religious Worship will not raise those Reflections which gall the Conscience, and make them uneasy with themselves. You will see this very plainly, if you will apply this Reasoning to those several Acts of Wor. fhip, which by common Use are generally comprized under the Notion of Prayer, and the Particulars which are the Subject Matter of it. Prayer, in the strict Sense, is the calling upon God for the supply of our Wants, and these are either Temporal or Spiritual. Christ hach caught us to pray for our daily Bread; which comprehends both the Necessaries and the Con. veniencies of Life. Put this Prayer now into the Mouth of a Glutton, or a Sot, and see where will be the Decency of it. Can you ask of God the Continue ance of thofe Blessings, which you every Day abuse to his Dishonour ? So we are taught to pray for the Forgiveness of our Sins, and the Aids of God's Grace; which may well become us, if we mean to repent and amend: But can you ask that Grace which you turn into Wantonness? Can you beg of God to forgive
you those Sins to Day, of which you are resolved, if Opportunity ferve, to be guilty again to Morrow? Finally; we are taught not only to ask for what we want, but to return l'hanks also for Benefits received; which will be a realonable Service, if we bear with us a grateful Mind. But can we profess Thankfulness with our Mouths, and deny it by our wicked Works?
-They who come to their Prayers without any Degree of Artention or Seriousness, may do these with as much Ease as they do many ocher absurd Things : But if bad Men will but mind what they are about, there is that in Prayer, which will be a Reproach to them, and shame them into some good Resolutions. And therefore it is a very idle Thing to ask, “ To " what End should we pray, since God, infinite in “ Wisdom, knows our Wants, and infinite in Good“ ness, must be supposed at all Times ready to bestow
upon us what he sees to be needful?” This is an old Objection against Prayer ; and it is observable, that those who reasoned in this Manner rejected * all Institutions. With great Consistency with themselves ! For if you measure the Value of these Things by their natural Efficacy, as to God, they are all alike. God has no more need of Prayer than he has of Sacrifices; and how litile that is, he tells us himself, Ifa. i. 11. To what Purpose is the Multitude of your Sacrifices to ME, Jaith the Lord? I DELIGHT NOT in the Blood of Bullocks, or of Lambs, or of He goats.
And Pfal. 1. 12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee, for the World is mine, and the Fulness thereof. Will I eat the Flejh of Bulls, or drink the Blood of Goats? But as God commanded Sacrifices, of which he had no need, so he hath commanded Prayer, of which he hath no need ; and both for the same Re son, viz be. cause Men needed them to be as Memoria's of his governing Providence, and to keep alive chat Faith and Truf in him, which is necessary to their well doing.
Thus much for the Nature and Ule of Prayer; which appears, in its general Notion, to be no inore * Vid. Origen de Orat. $ 11.
than a Recognition of God as the Creator and Governor of the World. ` And thus far Prayer is a Part of Worthip, not peculiario Christianity, but common to all Religions in the World. How it came to be so, is a Quelltion very easily answered. For those who think not Prayer to be a natural Ducy, may fee i's Appojot. ment in the Appointment of Sacrifice ; for Sacrifice is Prayer by outward Symbols; and the Appointment of Sacrific-s is as old as the Fall of Man. But there is a Circumfiance in Chriftian Prayer peculiar to Chrifia. nity, which makes it to be a Recognition of God, not only as our Creator, but as our Redeemer ; for we are commanded to pray for all Things in the Name of Christ, i. e. in Trust in his meretorious all-sufficient Sacrifice; and in this View it is an Instrument ferving to perpetuate the Memory of our Redemption, and to excite in our Minds all those grateful Sentiments, which the Consideration of our Redemption yields. Now as Prayer, whether publickly or privately performed, is, in the Nature of it, one and the same Thing, it may be demanded, what particular Ules are served by its being commanded to be done pub. lickly ; and they are these.
1. The Duty is hereby more secure from being neglected. When Things are to pafs only between God and Mens Consciences, and they have nothing to in. fluence then but the Ingenuity of their Temper, it is an easy Matter for them to grow remiss and careless. But when they cannot commit a Fault, but the Wrld must take Notice of it, this lays hold of natural Modesty, and the Concern which every Man has for his own Credit, will help to keep him within some Bounds of Decency. In the first Ages, chole who cultomarily absented themselves from God's publick Worship, fell under the Censures of the Church, and were denied the Privileges of Christian Fellowship. This was in. tended to thame them in:o better Manners, as in all other Cases where the like Discipline was exercised. For so says St. Paul, 2. Thell. iii. 14. Note that Man, and bave no company with him, that he may be ashamed.