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 That they may have the special presence of God with them in all his ordinances, which will be a visible testimony of his regard to them, and an honour put on his own institutions, as well as an accomplishment of what he promised te his apostles just before he ascended into heaven, that he would be with them always even unto the end of the world, Mat. xxviii. 20.
[3.] That they may be supported under the burdens, difficulties and persecutions which they meet with, either from the powers of darkness or wicked men, for Christ's sake, that so the promise may be made good to them, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against them, chap. xvi. 18.
[4.] That there may be added to particular churches out of the world, many such as shall be saved, Acts ii. 47. which shall be an argument of the success of the gospel: And when we pray, that God would magnify his grace in bringing sinners home to himself, we are to pray for the accomplishment of those promises that respect the conversion of the Jews: Thus the apostle says, Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved, Rom. x. 1. and, that there may be a greater spread of the gospel throughout the most remote and dark parts of the earth, among whom Christ is, at present, unknown: This the apostle calls The fulness of the Gentiles coming in, chap. xi. 25. and it is agreeable to what is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, in chap. lx. which seems not as yet to have had its full accomplishment.
[5.] We are to pray that the life of faith and holiness may be daily promoted in all the faithful members of the church of Christ, that they may be enabled more and more to adorn the doctrine of God, our Saviour, and be abundantly satis fied, and delighted with the fruits and effects of his redeeming love.
[6.] That God would accept of those sacrifices of prayer and praise that are daily offered to him by faith, in the blood of Christ, in every worshipping assembly, which will redound to the advantage of all the servants of Christ, whom they think themselves obliged to make mention of in their prayers, as well as to the glory of God, which is owned and advanced thereby.
[7.] That the children of believers, who are devoted to God, may be under his special care and protection, that they may follow the footsteps of the flock, and fill up the places of those who are called off the stage of this world; that so there may be a constant supply of those who shall bear a testimony to Christ and his gospel in the rising generation.
[8.] That the members of every particular church of Christ may acquit themselves so as that they may honour him in the
eyes of the world, and be supported and carried safely through this waste howling wilderness, till they arrive at that better country for which they are bound; and that they may not be foiled or overcome while they are in their militant state, but may be joined with the church triumphant in heaven.
(2.) We are to pray for magistrates. This is not only included in the general exhortation given us to pray for all men; but they are particularly mentioned by the apostle, and it is intimated that it is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 1 Tim. ii. 1-3. This also may be argued from hence, that magistracy is God's ordinance, Rom. xiii. 1, 2. and there is no ordinance which is enstamped with the divine authority, though it may principally respect civil affairs; but we are to pray that God would succeed and prosper it, that it may answer the valuable ends for which it was appointed.
Now there are several things that we are to pray for in the behalf of magistrates, viz. that they may approve themselves rulers after God's own heart, to fulfil all his will, Acts xii. 26. as was said of David; that their counsels and conduct may be ordered for his glory, and the good of his church; that they may not be a terror to good works; namely, to persons that perform them, but to the evil; and so may not bear the sword in vain, Rom. xiii. 3, 4. Accordingly we are to pray, that they may be a public blessing to all their subjects, and herein that promise may be fulfilled; Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers, Isa. xlix. 23. and, as an instance hereof, that under them we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. ii. 2. And, as to what concerns their subjects, that their authority may not be abused and trampled on by them, on the one hand, while they take occasion to offend with impunity; nor be dreaded as grievous to others who feel the weight thereof, in instances of injustice and oppression.
(3.) We are to pray for ministers. This is a necessary duty, inasmuch as their work is exceeding great and difficult; so that the apostle might well say, Who is sufficient for these things, 2 Cor. ii. 16. And, indeed, besides the difficulties that attend the work itself, there are others that they meet with, arising from the unstable temper of professed friends, who sometimes, as the apostle says, become their enemies for telling them the truth, Gal. iv. 16. or from the restless malice and violent opposition of open enemies; which evidently takes its rise from that inveterate hatred that they bear to Christ and his gospel. Moreover, as they have difficulties in the discharge of the work they are called to, so they must give an account to God for their faithfulness therein; and it is of the highest importance that they do this with joy, and not with grief,
Heb. xiii. 17, 18. as the apostle speaks; and immediately he intreats the church's prayers, as that which was necessary in order hereunto. Now there are several things which ought to be the subject-matter of our prayers, with respect to minis
[1.] That God would send forth a supply or succession of them, to answer the church's necessities; inasmuch as the harvest is plenteous, as our Saviour observes, but the labourers are few, Matt. xi. 37, 38.
[2.] That they may answer the character which the apostle gives of a faithful minister; and accordingly study to shew themselves approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, 2 Tim. ii. 15.
[3.] That they may be directed and enabled to impart those truths that are substantial, edifying, and suitable to the circumstances and condition of their hearers.
[4.] That they may be spirited with zeal, and love to souls, in the whole course of their ministry; that the glory of God, and the advancement of his truth may lie nearest their hearts, and a tender concern and compassion for the souls of men, may incline them to use their utmost endeavours, as the aposthe speaks, to save them with fear, pulling them out of the fire, Jude, ver. 23.
[5.] That their endeavours may be attended with success, which, in some measure, may give them a comfortable hope that they are called, accepted, and approved of by God, which, from the nature of the thing will tend to their own advantage, who make this the subject of our earnest prayers on their behalf; and, indeed, the neglect of performing this duty, may, in some measure, be assigned as one reason why the word is often preached with very little success; so that this ought to he performed, not barely as an act of favour, but as a duty that redounds to our own advantage.
(4.) We are to pray, not only for ourselves and our brethren, but for our enemies. That we are to pray for ourselves, none ever denied, how much so ever many live in the neglect of this duty; and as for our obligation to pray for our brethren, that is founded in the law of nature; which obliges ús to love them as ourselves, and, consequently, to desire their welfare, together with our own.
However, it may be enquired, what we are to understand by our brethren, for whom we are to express this great concern in our supplications to God? For the understanding of which, let it be considered, that, besides those who are called brethren, in the most known acceptation of the word, as Jacob's sons tell Joseph, We be twelve brethren, sons of one father, Gen. slii. 32. it is sometimes taken, in scripture, for any near kins
man: Thus Abraham and Lot are called brethren, chap. xiii. 8. though they were not sons of the same father, for Lot was Abraham's brother's son, chap. xi. 31. this is a very common acceptation of the word in scripture. Again, it is sometimes taken in a more large sense, for those who are members of the same church: Thus the apostle cails those that belonged to the church at Colosse, the saints and faithful brethren in Christ, Col. i. 2. and sometimes they who are of the same nation, are called brethren: Thus it is said, When Moses was full forty. years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel, Acts vii. 23. And it is sometimes taken for those who make profession of the same religion with ourselves; and also for those who are kind and friendly to us: Thus it is said, A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity, Prov. xvii. 17. and, indeed, the word is sometimes taken in the largest sense that can be, as comprizing in it all mankind, who have the same nature with ourselves, 1 John iv. 21. These are objects of love, and therefore our prayers are, especially in proportion to the nearness of the relation they stand in to us, to be directed to God on their behalf. Some, indeed, are allied to us by stronger bonds than others; but none, who are entitled to our love, pity, and compassion, are to be wholly excluded from our prayers.
This will farther appear, if we consider that we are also to pray for our enemies, as the law of nature obliges us to do good for evil; and consequently, as our Saviour says, we are to pray for them which despitefully use us, and persecute_us, Matt. v. 44, We are not, indeed, to pray for them, that they may obtain their wicked and unjust designs against us; or that they may have power and opportunity to hurt us; for that is contrary to the principle of self-preservation, which is impressed on our nature; but we are to pray for them.
[1.] That however they carry it to us they may be made Christ's friends, their hearts changed, and they enabled to serve his interest; that they, together with ourselves, may be partakers of everlasting salvation; therefore it is a vile thing, and altogether inconsistent with the spirit of a christian, to desire the ruin, much more the damnation of any one, as many wickedly and profanely do.
[2.] We are to pray that their corruptions may be subdued, their tempers softened, and their hearts changed; so that they may be sensible of, and lay aside their unjust resentments against us. And,
[3.] If they are under any distress or misery, we are not to insult or take pleasure in beholding it, but to pity them, and to pray for their deliverance, as much as though they were not enemies to us.
(5.) We are to pray not only for all sorts of men now living; according to what is contained in the last head, but for those that shall live hereafter. This includes in it an earnest desire that the interest of Christ may be propagated from generation to generation; and his kingdom and glory advanced in the world until his second coming: Thus the Psalmist says, He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer: This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created, shall praise the Lord, Psal. cii. 17, 18. and our Saviour says, Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word, John xvii. 20.
2. We are now to consider those who are excluded from our prayers; and these are either such as are dead, or those who have sinned the sin unto death.
(1.) We are not to pray for the dead. This is asserted in opposition to what was maintained and practised by some in the early ages of the church, and paved the way for those abuses and corruptions which are practised by the church of Rome, at this day, who first prayed for the dead, and afterwards proceeded farther in praying for them. The first step that was taken leading hereunto, seems to have been their being guilty of great excesses in the large encomiums they made in their public anniversary orations, in commemoration of the martyrs and confessors, who had suffered in the cause of christianity. This was done at first, with a good design, viz. to excite those who survived, to imitate them in their virtues, and to express their love to the cause for which they suffered; but afterwards they went beyond the bounds of decency in magnifying and extolling them; and then they proceeded yet farther, in praying for them; This is often excused, by some modern writers, from the respect they bear to them, who first practised it; though it can hardly be vindicated from the charge of will-worship, since no countenance is given to it in scripture.
That which is generally alleged in their behalf, is, that they supposed the souls of believers did not immediately enter into heaven, but were sequestered, or disposed of in some place inferior to it, which they sometimes call paradise, or Abraham's bosom, where they are to continue till their souls are re-united to their bodies. Whether this place be above or below the earth, all are not agreed; but their mistake arises from their misunderstanding those scriptures which describe heaven under these metaphorical characters of paradise, or Abraham's bosom. Here they suppose that they are, indeed, delivered
See page 317.