« AnteriorContinua »
fings of this Life (as they are commonly esteemed) may not always be so. We are to understand this (as was hinted above) of tha: kind of Allistance which is necessary to enable us to do the Duties of our Stations, and to qualify us for Favour and Acceptance with God. For as to those kinds of Improvements by which different Men excel one another in the Perfection of their fpiritual Estate, these are (or may be at least) subject to the Will of God, as directed by the general Views of his Providence, as all other Blessings are. All whom God calls to Salvation by the Gospel, shall have the Means of qualifying themselves for it, by the Conditions of the Gospel, if they will honestly and carefully endeavour after it. But it will not follow that all may attain to the same Degree of Perfection. God hath created Men to different Degrees of Happiness in this World, and he may have created them to different Degrees of Glory in the next; which I re mark, that we may not think the worse of our Prayers, if, when we are not wanting in any Thing which is necessary to a common Virtue, there should be fome rare Examples, which by all our Endeavours we cannot come up to. It may be the Will of God that we Bould advance no farther; and if it is so, there we must be content to reft ; nor fhould we be any more displeased with ourselves, because we cannot reach the Perfection of the befit, than the best are, or ought to be, that they cannot equal the Perfection of Angels.
2. From the Matter of our Prayers I now pass on to the Difpofition of Mind with which we ought to pray; and this in general mult correspond with those Profeffions which Prayer imports. For Falfhood is an immoral Thing, and false Profesions, under the Shew or Mak of Religion, are of all kinds of Fallhoods the worft. Every Christian is supposed to believe in Chrift; and it is self-evident, that without the Faith of a Christian, the Prayer of a Christian cannot stand, But if a Man has Faith, he may be wanting in Obe. dience; and it is a Point well worth considering, how far an immoral Life disqualifies us for the Duty of
Prayer. St. Paul exhorts us to lift up holy Hands, i Tim. ii. 8. And the wife Man tells us, that the sa. crifice of the Wicked is an Abomination, Prov. xxi. 27. This implies that the Acceptableness of our Prayers with God doth greatly depend upon our moral State. Yet we must not say that it so much depends upon our moral State, that every Defect will unqualify us; for it is by God's Grace that we are enabled to do well; and this Grace is to be obtain'd by aking for it. My Way of thinking in this Matter is this ; 1. That the lowest Degree of Virtue is fufficient to qualify us to ask that Help from God, which is necessary to our farther Growth and Improvement. Some Degree of Virtue is necessary to qualify us to pray; for when Men, quite careless and hardened in their Sins, presume to pray (as they may do for Custom or Fashionfake) they do but adi Sin to Sin ; because they make
; a Profession of Reverence to God with their Mouths, whilft their Hearts are far from him. But if a Man has so much Thought and Reflexion as to be convinced of his evil Ways, and to cake up some good Resolu. tions of Amendment for the Time to come, he may pray to God to strenghten these good Resolutions, and to place his imperfect Repentance to his Account so far as the Value of it will go. For why? He asks only what is fit for God to give, and what he hath given us Encouragement in his Word to believe, that he will below. But this I would have understood of private Prayer only; for in publick Prayer there is another Consideration to be taken into the Account. In private Prayer the Transaction lies only between God and a Man's own Conscience ; and God who searcheth the Heart, feech the Correspondency of our inward Sentiments with our outward or verbal Professions. But when a Man joins with a Congregation of Christians in publick Prayer, the Transaction lies also be. tween him and the Church, to which he offers him. self as a publick Example; and where an Example is offered, there ought to be Confistency, otherwise the Nature of the Example changes. And therefore those
who are scandalously immoral in their Lives, are not qualified to join in Prayer in the publick Assemblies or Congregations of Christians : For a Man's Bebaviour is a much better Evidence to the World of his in. ward Disposition, than a mere Profession can be, which, when it agrees not with the general Tenor of his Life, will be look'd upon as Hypocrisy ; and Hypocrisy makes a bad Example worse instead of mending it. This exactly agrees with the ancient Discipline, whereby publick notorious Offenders were excluded from the Prayers of the Church, as well as from the Participation of the Holy Sacrament. But of this more hereafter, when I come to treat of the Sacra.
And therefore, 2. Tho' the lowest Degree of Virtue is sufficient to qualify us to ask that Help from God which is necessary to our farther Growth and Improvement; our general Interest with God, and consequently the general Efficacy of our Prayers, will depend upon the Measure of our Improvement. The Blessings of Providence are the proper Instances of God's Love to us; and this we feel within ourselves, that the more we love our Friends, the more ready we are to listen to their Requests. And reasonable it is that it should be so; for it is shewing a proper Dilinc. tion to real Merit, which is or always ought to be the Foundation of Love. With God it always is fo, who being infinitely removed from the Weaknesses, and Passions of Men, esteems every Man in Proportion to his Virtues. This thews the Reason of those Pasla. ges in Scripture (of which there is a great Variety) where God is represented as taking Pleasure in the Homage paid him by good Men; as having his Eyes over them, and his Ears open to their Prayers: And if he is kind to the Unthankful and to the Evil, it is not because they pray to him, but because, for Reasons of Providence, he sees it to be convenient.
This is a great Encouragement to well-doing, that in makes God our Frieod, who will be ready to hear us in all Things that we call upon him for. And this is the proper Foundation for that Truff in God which 5
seasons our Devotions, and makes them to become an Offering of a sweet smelling Savour, St. James exhorts us to ask in FAITH, nothing wavering, Jam. i. 6. And our' Saviour--All Things that pe fall af is Prayer BELIEVING, ye shall receive, Mat.' xxi. 22. A bad Man cannot ask in Faith ; and therefore bad Men are not fit to pray, any farther than (as I said just now) for that Grace which is necessary to enable them to repent and amend. But good Men, whatever be the Subject of their Prayers, may ask in Faith, and ought to do fo; because where there is a proper Foundation for Trust in our own Conduct, to suspect that God will reject our Prayers, is to dispute his Goodness. It is supposed that a good Man will ask nothing but what it is fit for him to ak, and with such Submission to the Will of God in doubtful Points as Religion implies. And therefore the Faith here recommended is not an Assurance that God will grant us precisely the individual Thing we may wish for, but that or something equivalent to it. In fort, it is an Afurance that all Things fall work together for good to them that love God; and when we are fully poffefred of this Belief, we have all the Comfort within ourselves that Religion can yield.
There is one Disposition more mentioned in Scriptore, and that is Fervency; which implies not only Attention, but some Earnetness of Defire also to ob. tain what we pray for. Want of Attention in Prayer (so far as it is avoidable by a common Degree of Prudence). is a sure Token of a careless Mind, and fhews great Irreverence to Almighty God. But we are not to think the same of every wandering Thought, which may arise from mere inadvertency, Surprize, or a strong Attachment of Mind, when, in his general Temper and Dispofition, a Person is serious and devout. If a Man wants the Spirit of Devotion, his Prayers will be faulty, how punctually soever he may attend at the Time of Praying. But if he comes possessed with humble Reverence to God, be the Interruptions which he may casually feel, more or less, they will not spoil
the Virtue of his Prayers. The general Honesty of his Intentions, will supply such particular Defects as these. And if Men attend to what they are about when they are saying their Prayers, and conlider the Value of the Bletings they ask, they cannot want Ear. neftness ; such 3 Degree of it, I mean, as is suitable to their natural Tempers. They may not feel perhaps Extasies and Transports, nor is it nect slary that they should; for this plain Reason, because it may not be always in their Power. Every Man may be Sober and Serious; but every Man cannot work himself up into a Pasion. This depends upon Constitution, and Occasions, and Circumftances accidentally adminiftred; and therefore it would be judging very ill, if a Man, in all other Respects well disposed, should find fauls with himself, and think his Prayers will not be heard, because they are not offered up with a Degree of Warmth and Vehemency, which he is not accustomed to find upon any other Occasion. We may have the more Satisfaction in our Prayers perhaps, the wormer they are; and there may this good Effect follow, that as the Inpreslions of Religion are the more strong, so they may be also the more la ling: For which Reasons no Helps should be neglected, which are proper to raise and quicken our Devotions. The Piety of Christians since the Reformation, hath fur. nished us with a Variety of Books serving as Helps to Devotion; and I doubt not but many have found and will find very good Improvement from the Use of such Books: But they are to be used with Caucion. For these Writers above all others are most apt to give a Scope to their Imaginations, and affect more to draw fine Pictures than to express what is just and narural in human Life ; and if Men will not be pleated with themselves, unless they can feel such Dilpobtions as will answer to every high flown Expr fion which they meet with in such Books, they will be made very uneasy, and very unreofonably so. Perhaps these Writers themselves felt nothing equal to their own De. scriptions; but if they did, why must the warmth of