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iron bands of necessity, and though God's mercy is the measure of his justice, yet justice is the measure of our mercy; and as we do to others, it shall be done to us, even in the matter of pardon and of bounty, of gentleness and remission, of bearing each other's burdens, and fair interpretation; "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us," so we pray. The final sentence in this affair is recorded by St. James, "He that shews no mercy, shall have justice without mercy:" as thy poor brother hath groaned under thy cruelty and ungentle nature without remedy, so shalt thou before the throne of God; thou shalt pray, and plead, and call, and cry, and beg again, and in the midst of thy despairing noises be carried into the regions of sorrow, which never did and never shall feel a mercy. "God never can hear the prayers of an unmerciful
2. Lust and uncleanness are a direct enemy to the praying man, an obstruction to his prayers; for this is not only a profanation, but a direct sacrilege; it defiles a temple to the ground; it takes from a man all affection to spiritual things, and mingles his very soul with the things of the world; it makes his understanding low, and his reasonings cheap and foolish, and it destroys his confidence, and all his manly hopes; it makes his spirit light, effeminate, and fantastic, and dissolves his attention; and makes his mind so to disaffect all the objects of his desires, that when he prays he is as uneasy as an impaled person, or a condemned criminal upon the hook or wheel; and it hath in it this evil quality, that a lustful person cannot pray heartily against his sin; he cannot desire his cure, for his will contradictory to his collect, and he would not that God should hear the words of his prayer, which he poor man never intended. For no crime so seizes upon the will as that; some sins steal an affection, or obey a temptation, or secure an interest, or work by the way of understanding, but lust seizes directly upon the will, for the devil knows well that the lusts of the body are soon cured; the uneasiness that dwells there, is a disease very tolerable, and every degree of patience can pass under it. But therefore the devil seizes upon the will, and that is
© James, ii. 13.
it that makes adulteries and all the species of uncleanness; and lust grows so hard a cure, because the formality of it is, that it will not be cured; the will loves it, and so long as it does, God cannot love the man; for God is the prince of purities, and the Son of God is the king of virgins, and the Holy Spirit is all love, and that is all purity and all spirituality: and therefore the prayer of an adulterer, or an unclean person, is like the sacrifices to Moloch, or the rites of Flora, “ubi Cato spectator esse non potuit." A good man will not endure them; much less will God entertain such reekings of the Dead Sea and clouds of Sodom. For so an impure vapour,—begotten of the slime of the earth by the fevers and adulterous heats of an intemperate summer-sun, striving by the ladder of a mountain to climb climb up to heaven, and rolling into various figures by an uneasy, unfixed revolution, and stopped at the middle region of the air, being thrown from his pride and attempt of passing towards the seat of the stars,-turns into an unwholesome flame, and like the breath of hell is confined into a prison of darkness, and a cloud, till it breaks into diseases, plagues, and mildews, stink and blastings: so is the prayer of an unchaste person; it strives to climb the battlements of heaven, but because it is a flame of sulphur, salt, and bitumen, and was kindled in the dishonourable regions below, derived from hell, and contrary to God, it cannot pass forth to the element of love, but ends in barrenness and murmur, fantastic expectations, and trifling imaginative confidences; and they at last end in sorrows and despair. Every state of sin is against the possibility of a man's being accepted; but these have a proper venom against the graciousness of the person, and the power of the prayer. God can never accept an unholy prayer, and a wicked man can never send forth any other; the waters pass through impure aqueducts and channels of brimstone, and therefore may end in brimstone and fire, but never in forgiveness, and the blessings of an eternal charity.
Henceforth, therefore, never any more wonder that men pray so seldom; there are few that feel the relish, and are enticed with the deliciousness, and refreshed with the comforts, and instructed with the sanctity, and acquainted with the secrets of a holy prayer: but cease also to wonder, that of those few that say many prayers, so few find any return
of any at all. To make up a good and a lawful prayer, there must be charity, with all its daughters, "alms, forgiveness," not judging uncharitably; there must be purity of spirit, that is, purity of intention; and there must be purity of the body and soul, that is, the cleanness of chastity; and there must be no vice remaining, no affection to sin for he that brings his body to God, and hath left his will in the power of any sin, offers to God the calves of his lips, but not a whole burnt-offering; a lame oblation, but not a "reasonable sacrifice;" and therefore their portion shall be amongst them whose prayers were never recorded in the book of life, whose tears God never put into his bottle, whose desires shall remain ineffectual to eternal ages. Take heed you do not lose your prayers; "for by them ye hope to have eternal life;" and let any of you, whose conscience is most religious and tender, consider what condition that man is in, that hath not said his prayers in thirty or forty years together; and that is the true state of him, who hath lived so long in the course of an unsanctified life; in all that while he never said one prayer, that did him any good; but they ought to be reckoned to him upon the account of his sins. He that is in the affection, or in the habit, or in the state, of any one sin whatsoever, is at such distance from and contrariety to God, that he provokes God to anger in every prayer he makes: and then add but this consideration; that prayer is the great sum of our religion, it is the effect, and the exercise, and the beginning, and the promoter, of all graces, and the consummation and perfection of many; and all those persons who pretend towards heaven, and yet are not experienced in the secrets of religion, they reckon their piety, and account their hopes, only upon the stock of a few prayers. It may be they pray twice every day, it may be thrice, and blessed be God for it; so far is very well: but if it shall be remembered and considered, that this course of piety is so far from warranting any one course of sin, that any one habitual and cherished sin destroys the effect of all that piety, we shall see there is reason to account this to be one of those great arguments, with which God hath so bound the duty of holy living upon us, that without a holy life we cannot in any sense be happy, or have the effect of one prayer. But if we be returning and re
penting sinners, God delights to hear, because he delights
to save us:
Si precibus (dixerunt) numina justis
When a man is holy, then God is gracious, and a holy life is the best, and it is a continual prayer; and repentance is the best argument to move God to mercy, because it is the instrument to unite our prayers to the intercession of the holy Jesus.
AFTER these evidences of Scripture, and reason derived from its analogy, there will be less necessity to take any particular notices of those little objections, which are usually made from the experience of the success and prosperities of evil persons. For true it is, there is in the world a generation of men that pray long and loud, and ask for vile things, such which they ought to fear, and pray against, and yet they are heard; "the fat upon earth eat and worship":" but if these men ask things hurtful and sinful, it is certain God hears them not in mercy: they pray to God as despairing Saul did to his armour-bearer, "Sta super me et interfice me;" "Stand upon me and kill me ;" and he that obeyed his voice did him dishonour, and sinned against the head of his king, and his own life. And the vicious persons, of old, prayed to Laverna,
Da mihi fallere, da justum sanctumque videri,
'Give me a prosperous robbery, a rich prey, and secret escape, let me become rich with thieving, and still be accounted holy' for every sort of man hath some religion or other, by the measures of which they proportion their lives and their prayers; now, as the Holy Spirit of God, teaching us to pray, makes us like himself, in order to a holy and an effective
d Psal. xxii. 29.
prayer; and no man prays well, but he that prays by the Spirit of God, "the Spirit of holiness," and he that prays with the Spirit must be made like to the Spirit; he is first sanctified and made holy, and then made fervent, and then his prayer ascends beyond the clouds: first, he is renewed in the spirit of his mind, and then he is inflamed with holy fires, and guided by a bright star; first purified and then lightened, then burning and shining: so is every man in every of his prayers; he is always like the Spirit by which he prays: if he be a lustful person, he prays with a lustful spirit; if he does not pray for it, he cannot heartily pray against it: if he be a tyrant or a usurper, a robber or a murderer, he hath his Laverna too, by which all his desires are guided, and his prayers directed, and his petitions furnished: he cannot pray against that spirit that possesses him, and hath seized upon his will and affections: if he be filled with a lying spirit, and be conformed to it in the image of his mind, he will be so also in the expressions of his prayer, and the sense of his soul. Since, therefore, no prayer can be good but that which is taught by the Spirit of grace, none holy but the man whom God's Spirit hath sanctified, and therefore none heard to any purposes of blessing, which the Holy Ghost does not make for us (for he makes intercession for the saints; the Spirit of Christ is the precentor or rector chori, the master of the choir); it follows that all other prayers, being made with an evil spirit, must have an evil portion; and though the devils by their oracles have given some answers, and by their significations have foretold some future contingencies, and in their government and subordinate rule have assisted some armies, and discovered some treasures, and prevented some snares of chance and accidents of men; yet no man, that reckons by the measures of reason or religion, reckons witches and conjurors amongst blessed and prosperous persons: these and all other evil persons have an evil spirit, by the measures of which their desires begin and proceed on to issue; but this success of theirs neither comes from God, nor brings felicity but if it comes from God, it is anger; if it descends upon good men, it is a curse; if upon evil men, it is a sin; and then it is a present curse, and leads on to an eternal infelicity. Plutarch reports, that the Tyrians tied their gods