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with chains, because certain persons did dream, that Apollo said he would leave their city, and go to the party of Alexander, who then besieged the town: and Apollodorus tells of some, that tied the image of Saturn with bands of wool upon his feet. So some Christians; they think God is tied to their sect, and bound to be of their side, and the interest of their opinion; and they think, he can never go to the enemy's party, so long as they charm him with certain forms of words or disguises of their own; and then all the success they have, and all the evils that are prosperous, all the mischiefs they do, and all the ambitious designs that do succeed, they reckon upon the account of their prayers; and well they may for their prayers are sins, and their desires are evil; they wish mischief, and they act iniquity, and they enjoy their sin: and if this be a blessing or a cursing, themselves shall then judge, and all the world shall perceive, when the accounts of all the world are truly stated; then, when prosperity shall be called to accounts, and adversity shall receive its comforts, when virtue shall have a crown, and the satisfaction of all sinful desires shall be recompensed with an intolerable sorrow, and the despair of a perishing soul. Nero's mother prayed passionately, that her son might be emperor; and many persons, of whom St. James speaks, "pray to spend upon their lusts," and they are heard too some were not, and very many are: and some, that fight against a just possessor of a country, pray, that their wars may be prosperous; and sometimes they have been heard too and Julian the apostate prayed, and sacrificed, and inquired of demons, and burned man's flesh, and operated with secret rites, and all that he might craftily and powerfully oppose the religion of Christ; and he was heard too, and did mischief beyond the malice and the effect of his predecessors, that did swim in Christian blood: but when we sum up the accounts at the foot of their lives, or so soon as the thing was understood, and find that the effect of Agrippina's prayer was, that her son murdered her; and of those lustful petitioners, in St. James, that they were given over to the tyranny and possession of their passions, and baser appetites; and the effect of Julian the Apostate's prayer was, that he lived and died a professed enemy of Christ; and the effect of the prayers of usurpers is that they
do mischief, and reap curses, and undo mankind, and provoke God, and live hated, and die miserable, and shall possess the fruit of their sin to eternal ages; these will be no objections to the truth of the former discourse; but greater instances, that, if by hearing our prayers, we mean or intend a blessing, we must also, by making prayers, mean, that the man first be holy, and his desires just and charitable, before he can be admitted to the throne of grace, or converse with God by the intercourses of a prosperous prayer.
That is the first general. 2. Many times good men pray, and their prayer is not a sin, but yet it returns empty; because, although the man may be, yet the prayer is not, in proper disposition; and here I am to account to you concerning the collateral and accidental hinderances of the prayers of a good man.
The first thing that hinders the prayer of a good man from obtaining its effects is a violent anger, and a violent storm in the spirit of him that prays. For anger sets the house on fire, and all the spirits are busy upon trouble, and intend propulsion, defence, displeasure, or revenge; it is a short madness, and an eternal enemy to discourse, and sober counsels, and fair conversation; it intends its own object with all the earnestness of perception, or activity of design, and a quicker motion of a too warm and distempered blood; it is a fever in the heart, and a calenture in the head, and a fire in the face, and a sword in the hand, and a fury all over; and therefore can never suffer a man to be in a disposition to pray. For prayer is an action, and a state of intercourse and desire, exactly contrary to this character of anger. Prayer is an action of likeness to the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of gentleness and dove-like simplicity; an imitation of the holy Jesus, whose spirit is meek, up to the greatness of the biggest example, and a conformity to God; whose anger is always just, and marches slowly, and is without transportation, and often hindered, and never hasty, and is full of mercy: prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts, it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness; and he that prays to God with an angry, that is, with a troubled and discomposed
spirit, is like him that retires into a barrel to meditate, and sets up his closet in the out-quarters of an army, and chooses a frontier-garrison to be wise in. Anger is a perfect alienation of the mind from prayer, and therefore is contrary to that attention, which presents our prayers in a right line to God. For so have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest, than it could recover by the libration and frequent weighing of his wings; till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing, as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the air, about his ministries here below: so is the prayer of a good man; when his affairs have required business, and his business was matter of discipline, and his discipline was to pass upon a sinning person, or had a design of charity, his duty met with infirmities of a man, and anger was its instrument, and the instrument became stronger than the prime agent, and raised a tempest, and overruled the man; and then his prayer was broken, and his thoughts were troubled, and his words went up towards a cloud, and his thoughts pulled them back again, and made them without intention; and the good man sighs for his infirmity, but must be content to lose the prayer, and he must recover it when his anger is removed, and his spirit is becalmed, made even as the brow of Jesus, and smooth like the heart of God; and then it ascends to heaven upon the wings of the holy dove, and dwells with God, till it returns, like the useful bee, loaden with a blessing and the dew of heaven.
But besides this; anger is a combination of many other things, every one of which is an enemy to prayer; it is λún, and ὄρεξις, and τιμωρία, and it is ζέσις, and it is ἄθροος, and it is κόλασις, and ἐπιτίμησις; so it is in the several definitions of it, and in its natural constitution. It hath in it the trouble of sorrow, and the heats of lust, and the disease of revenge, and the boilings of a fever, and the rashness of precipitancy, and the disturbance of persecution; and therefore is a cer
tain effective enemy against prayer; which ought to be a spiritual joy, and an act of mortification; and to have in it no heats, but of charity and zeal; and they are to be guided by prudence and consideration, and allayed with the deliciousness of mercy, and the serenity of a meek and a quiet spirit; and therefore St. Paul gave caution, that "the sun should not go down upon our anger," meaning, that it should not stay upon us till evening prayer; for it would hinder our evening sacrifice; but the stopping of the first egressions of anger, is a certain artifice of the Spirit of God, to prevent unmercifulness, which turns not only our desires into vanity, but our prayers into sin; and, remember, that Elisha's anger, though it was also zeal, had so discomposed his spirit, when the two kings came to inquire of the Lord, that, though he was a good man and a prophet, yet he could not pray, he could not inquire of the Lord, till by rest and music he had gathered himself into the evenness of a dispassionate and recollected mind; therefore, let your prayers be without wrath. Βούλεται αὐτοὺς ἀναδιδάξαι διὰ συμβόλων, ὁπότε προσέρχοιντο εἰς βωμοὺς εὐξάμενοι ἤ εὐχαριστήσαντες, μηδὲν ἀῤῥώστημα ἢ πάθος ἐπιφέρεσθαι τῇ ψυχῇ ; “ for God, by many significations, hath taught us, that when men go to the altars to pray or give thanks, they must bring no sin or violent passion along with them to the sacrifice," said Philo.
2. Indifferency and easiness of desire is a great enemy to the good man's prayer. When Plato gave Diogenes a great vessel of wine, who asked but a little, and a few carraways, the Cynic thanked him with his rude expression: "Cum interrogaris, quot sint duo et duo, respondes viginti; ita non secundum ea, quæ rogaris, das; nec ad ea, quæ interrogaris, respondes:" "Thou neither answerest to the question thou art asked, nor givest according as thou art desired; being inquired of, how many are two and two, thou answerest twenty." So it is with God and us in the intercourse of our prayers: we pray for health, and he gives us, it may be, a sickness that carries us into eternal life; we pray for necessary support for our persons and families, and he gives us more than we need; we beg for a removal of a present sadness, and he gives us that which makes us able to bear twenty sadnesses, a cheerful spirit, a peaceful conscience, and a joy in God, as an antepast of eternal rejoicings in the kingdom of God. But,
then, although God doth very frequently give us beyond the matter of our desires, yet he does not so often give us great things beyond the spirit of our desires, beyond the quickness, vivacity, and fervour of our minds: for there is but one thing in the world that God hates besides sin, that is, indifferency and lukewarmness; which, although it hath not in it the direct nature of sin, yet it hath this testimony from God, that it is loathsome and abominable; and, excepting this thing alone, God never said so of any thing in the New Testament, but what was a direct breach of a commandment. The reason of it is, because lukewarmness, or an indifferent spirit, is an undervaluing of God and of religion; it is a separation of reason from affections, and a perfect conviction of the understanding to the goodness of a duty, but a refusing to follow what we understand. For he that is lukewarm alway, understands the better way, and seldom pursues it; he hath so much reason as is sufficient, but he will not obey it; his will does not follow the dictate of his understanding, and therefore it is unnatural. It is like the fantastic fires of the night, where there is light and no heat; and therefore may pass on to the real fires of hell, where there is heat and no light; and therefore, though an act of lukewarmness is only an indecency, and no sin; yet a state of lukewarmness is criminal, and a sinful state of imperfection and indecency; an act of indifferency hinders a single prayer from being accepted; but a state of it makes the person ungracious and despised in the court of heaven: and therefore St. James, in his accounts concerning an effective prayer, not only requires that he be a just man who prays, but his prayer must be fervent; dénois dikalov ¿vepyovμévn, “an effectual fervent prayer," so our English reads it; it must be an intent, zealous, busy, operative prayer; for, consider what a huge indecency it is, that a man should speak to God for a thing that he values not; or that he should not value a thing, without which he cannot be happy; or that he should spend his religion upon a trifle; and if it be not a trifle, that he should not spend his affections upon it. If our prayers be for temporal things, I shall not need stir up your affections to be passionate for their purchase; we desire them greedily, we run after them intem
• See Sermon II. of Lukewarmness and Zeal.