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(1.) That the greatest glory we can bring to God can make no addition to his infinite perfections: Thus it is said, Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure, that is, any advantage, to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect? Job xxiii. 2, 3. And elsewhere, If thou be righteous, what givest thou him, or what receiveth he of thy hand? ch. xxxv. 7. denoting that it is impossible for us, by any thing we can do or suffer for his sake, to make him more glorious than he would have been in himself, had we never had a being: Therefore, if there is nothing by which we can lay any obligations on God, we have reason to address ourselves to him with a sense of our own unworthiness.
(2.) We are so far from meriting any good thing from the hand of God, that by our repeated transgressions, notwithstanding the daily mercies we receive from him, we give farther proofs of our great unworthiness; and, indeed, if we are enabled to do any thing in obedience to his will, this is not from ourselves; yea, it is contrary to the dictates of corrupt nature, and must be ascribed to him as the author of it.
(3.) If we could do the greatest service to God by espousing his cause, and promoting his interest in the world; it is no more than what we are bound to do; and, at the same time we must consider, that it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure, Phil. ii. 13.
(4.) The best believers recorded in scripture, have entertained a constant, humble sense of their own unworthiness: Thus Abraham, when he stood before the Lord, making supplications in the behalf of Sodom, expresses himself thus, Behold, now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. And Jacob says, I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant, Gen. xxxii. 10. And they who have been most zealous for, and made eminently useful in promoting Christ's interest in the world, ave had an humble sense of their own unworthiness; as the apostle says concerning himself, I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, 1 Cor. xv. 9. And he immediately adds, By the grace of God I am what I am, ver. 10. And elsewhere he styles himself, less than the least of all saints, Eph. iii. 8.
We have another instance of humility in prayer, in the Psalmist's words, I am a worm, and no man, Psal. xxii. 6. which, so far as they have any reference to his own case, may give us occasion to infer, that the most advanced circumstances, in which any are in the world, are not inconsistent with humility, when drawing nigh to God in prayer; but if we consider him speaking in the person of Christ, as several expres
sions of this Psalm argue him to do, and cannot well be taken in any other sense*; then we have herein the most remark. able instance of the humble address that was used by Christ in his human nature, when drawing nigh to God in prayer; which is certainly a great motive to induce us to engage in this duty with the utmost humility.
3. We are to draw nigh to God in prayer, with a sense of our necessities, and the sins that we have committed against him. Accordingly, we are to consider ourselves as indigent creatures, who are stripped and deprived of that glory, and those bright ornaments which were put on man at first in his state of innocency; destitute of the divine image, and all those things that are necessary to our happiness, unless he is pleased to supply these wants, forgive our iniquities, and grant us communion with himself; which things we are to draw nigh to him in prayer for. We are also, in this duty, to have a sense of sin, viz. the guilt that we contract thereby, and the punishment we have exposed ourselves to, that we may see our need of drawing nigh to God in Christ's righteousness; and also of the stain and pollution thereof, which may induce us to fall down before the footstool of the throne of grace, with the greatest degree of self-abhorrence. We are also to consider how we are enslaved to sin, how much we have been, and how prone we are at all times, to serve divers lusts and pleasures, Tit. iii. 3. and to walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, Eph. ii. 2.
Moreover, we are to consider sin as deeply rooted in our
Many suppose that all those Psalms, in which some particular expressions are referred to in the New Testament, as having their accomplishment in Christ, are to be understood as containing a double reference, namely, to David, as denoting his particular case, and to Christ, of whom he was an eminent type. But as for Psalm xxii. there are several expressions in it, not only applied to Christ in the New Tes tament; but they cannot well be understood of any other but him. In the first verse he uses the same words that were uttered by Christ on the cross, Matt. xxvii. 46. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? and in ver. 8. he trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him: This was an expression used by those who mocked and derided him, Matt. xxvii. 41, 45. And what is said in verses 14, 17. All my bones are out of joint; I may tell them, they look and stare upon me; does not seem to be applicable to David, from any thing said concerning him elsewhere; but they are a lively representation of the torment a person endures, when hanging on a cross, as our Saviour did; which has a tendency to disjoint the bones, and cause them to stick out. And when it is said, ver. 16, 18. they pierced my hands and my feet; and they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture; the former was fulfilled in Christ's being nailed to the cross, and his side pierced with a spear; and the latter is expressly referred to as fulfilled in the parting of Christ's garments, and casting lots upon his vesture, Matt. xxvii. 35. as an accomplishment of what was foretold, by the royal prophet in this Psalm. These expressions cannot, in the least, be applied to David, but are to be understood of our Saviour; therefore, we may conclude that those words in ver. 6. I am a worm, &c. are particularly applied to bim.
hearts, debasing our affections, and captivating our wills. If we are in an unconverted state, we are to look upon it as growing and encreasing in us, rendering us more and more indisposed for what is good, by which means we are set at a farther distance from God and holiness: On the other hand, if we have ground to hope we are made partakers of converting grace, then we have acted contrary to the highest obligations, and been guilty of the greatest ingratitude. These things we are to endeavour to be affected with, when drawing nigh to God in prayer, in order to our performing this duty aright.
4. There are several graces that are to be exercised in prayer;
(1.) Repentance: This is necessary, because we are sinners; and as such, are to come into the presence of God with confession, joined with supplication which must be made with a penitent frame of spirit; the contrary to which, is a tacit approbation of sin, and a kind of resolution to adhere to it, which is very unbecoming those who are pleading for forgiveness: Accordingly, when God promised that he would pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, he adds, that they shall look upon him, whom they have pierced, and mourn for him, or for it, as one mourneth for his only son; and shall be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born: And that this shall be done by every family apart, and their wives apart, Zech. xii. 10. & seq. So when the priests, the ministers of the Lord, are commanded to pray, that he would spare his people; they, are, at the same time, to weep between the porch and the altar, to rent their hearts, and turn unto the Lord their God, Joel ii. 13. 17. And when Israel is advised to take with them words, and instructed how they should pray, they are exhorted to turn unto the Lord; to repent of their seeking help from Assyria and Egypt, and of that abominable idolatry which they had been guilty of, Hos. xiv. 1, 2, 3, 8.
Now there are several subjects very proper for our meditation; which may, through the divine blessing accompanying it, excite this grace, when we are engaged in the duty of prayer; particularly the multitude of transgressions which are charged on the consciences of men by the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God, Rom. iii. 19. and especially the ingratitude which we have reason to accuse ourselves of, and our contempt of Christ, and the way of salvation by him, which is discovered in the gospel; and our having done many things in the course of our lives, which fill us with shame and sorrow, whenever we come
into the presence of God, to pour out our hearts before him in this duty.
(2.) The next grace to be exercised in prayer is, thankfulness, in which respect prayer and praise ought to be joined together: Thus the Psalmist says, Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed, O thou that hearest prayer, Psal. lxv. 1, 2. That this is a part of prayer has been observed under a foregoing answer; in which we considered the many blessings that we have reason to be thankful for. I shall only add, at present, that it is matter of thankfulness, that we have liberty of access to God, in hope of obtaining mercy from him, as sitting on a throne of grace, who might have been forever banished from his presence, or have been brought before his judgment-seat as criminals, doomed to everlasting destruction.
Moreover, we are to bless him, not only that we have leave to come before him, but have often experienced that he has heard, and answered our prayers, and therein has fulfilled that promise, I said not to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain, Isa. xlv. 19. And that we may be brought into a thankful frame, we ought to consider,
[1.] The worth of every mercy; especially those that are spiritual, or accompany salvation; and this we may judge of by the price that was paid for it, which is no less than the blood of Jesus; which the apostle not only styles precious, but speaks of it as infinitely preferable to every thing that is corruptible, 1 Pet. i. 18, 19. And we may, in some measure, take an estimate thereof by the worth and excellency of the soul, and as it is conducive to promote its eternal welfare.
[2.] We are also to consider every saving blessing, as the fruit and result of everlasting love, and as the consequence of God's eternal design, in having chosen those, who are the objects thereof, to salvation in Christ, Jer. xxxi. 3. Eph. i. 3, 4. We must also consider these mercies as discriminating, whereby God distinguishes his people from the world, and herein glorifies the riches of his grace, in those who deserve to have been, for ever, the monuments of his wrath: We might here consider, as an inducement to this grace of thankfulness, the aggravations of the sin of ingratitude.
1st, It is a virtual disowning our obligation to, or dependence on God, from whom we receive all mercies, and a behaving ourselves in such a manner as though we were not beholden to him for them, or could be happy without him; as though we were self-sufficient, and did not look upon him as the fountain of blessedness.
2dly, It is a refusing to give him the glory of his wisdom,
power, goodness, and faithfulness, which are eminently displayed in the blessings that he bestows.
3dly, It is disagreeable to the large expectations we have of those blessings he has reserved for his people, or promised to them, or that hope which he has laid up for them in heaven. Therefore we cannot but conclude that ingratitude argues a person destitute of that holiness which eminently discovers itself in the exercise of the contrary grace: Accordingly the apostle joins these two characters together, when speaking of the vilest of men, whom he styles, unthankful, unholy, 2 Tim. iii. 2.
(3.) Another grace, to be exercised in prayer, is faith. This implies an habitual disposition of soul, proceeding from a principle of regenerating grace, whereby we are led to commit ourselves, and all our concerns, into Christ's hand, depending on his merits and mediation for the supply of all our wants, considering him as having purchased, and as being authorized to apply, all the benefits of the covenant of grace, which are the subject-matter of our supplications to him. More particularly, faith exerts and discovers itself in
[1.] By encouraging the soul, and giving it an holy boldness to draw nigh to God, notwithstanding our great unworthiness. If we are afraid to come into the presence of an holy God, and, destruction from him is a terror to us, if the threatnings he has denounced against sinners, such as we know ourselves to be, discourage us from drawing nigh to him, so that we are ready to say with Job, Therefore am I troubled at his presence; when I consider, I am afraid of him,' Job xxiii. 15. If his almighty power, that can easily sink us into perdition, overwhelms our spirits, and fills us with the utmost distress and confusion, so that we cannot draw nigh to him in prayer, considering him as an absolute God; we are encouraged by faith, to look upon him as our covenant God, and Father in Christ; and then all his divine perfections will afford relief to us. His sin-revenging justice is regarded by faith, as that which is fully satisfied by Christ's obedience and sufferings; and therefore will not demand that satisfaction at our hands, which it has already received from our surety, who was made sin for us' though he knew no sin, 'that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,' 2 Cor. v. 21. His infinite power is no longer looked upon, as engaged to destroy us, but rather to succour us under all our weakness; and therefore, as Job says, He will not plead ' against us with his great power; no, but he will put strength in us,' Job xxiii. 6. We consider it as ready to support us under the heaviest pressures, and so enable us to perform the T t