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racles which he wrought, and accordingly, were inclined to adhere to him, and embrace the gospel, wherein his person and glory are set forth; and yet have afterwards apostatized from this profession; and if this had been attended with envy and malice against Christ; and if they have treated the evidence which they once acknowledged, the Christian religion, to have been undeniably supported by, with contempt and blasphemy; and have totally rejected that faith which they once professed, arising from carnal policy, and the love of this world; and when this is attended with judicial hardness of heart, blindness of mind, and strong delusions, together with a rooted hatred of all religion, and a malicious persecution of those that embrace it; This is what we cannot but conclude to bear a very great resemblance to that which, in scripture, is called the unpardonable sin; and it is a most deplorable case, which should be so far improved by us, as that we should use the utmost caution, that we may not give way to those sins which bear the least resemblance to it: Nevertheless, doubting christians are to take heed that they do not apply this account that has been given of it to themselves, so as to lead them to despair; which is not the design of any description thereof, which we have in scripture. Now that these may be fortified against such-like objections, let it be considered,
1st, That it is one thing peremptorily to determine that it is impossible for any one to commit this sin in our day, since the dispensation of miracles is ceased, (which is, in effect, to suppose that we can have no evidence for the truth of the Christian religion, but what is founded on occular demonstration; such as they who saw Christ's miracles ;) and another thing to determine concerning particular persons, that they are guilty of this sin. It is certain that this matter might be determined with special application to particular persons in our Saviour's and the apostles' time, when there was among other extraordinary gifts, that of discerning of spirits; and consequently it might be known, whether they who apostatized from the faith of the gospel, had before this, received a full conviction of the truth thereof; and it might then be known, by extraordinary revelation, that God would never give them repentance, and therefore their apostacy would be final; and, it is more than probable, that this was supposed by the apostle, when he speaks of some that had committed this sin, who are not to be prayed for: But these things cannot be known by us; therefore I would not advise any one to forbear to pray for the worst of sinners, who seem most to resemble those that are charged with this sin, this matter not being certainly known by us.
2dly, That which is principally to be considered for the encouragement of those who are afraid that they have committed
this sin, is, that persons certainly know that they have not committed it, though they are in an unregenerate state; as,
1st, When they have not had opportunity, or those means that are necessary to attain the knowledge of the truth, and so remain ignorant thereof; or if they have had sufficient means to know it, they have not committed this sin, if they desire and resolve to wait on God in his ordinances, in order to their receiving good thereby.
2dly, They who are under conviction of sin, disapprove of, and have some degree of sorrow and shame for it, may certainly conclude that they have not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.
3dly, If persons have reason to think that their hearts are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and that they are greatly backslidden from God; yet they ought not to conclude that they have committed this sin, if they are afraid lest they should be given up to a perpetual backsliding, or dread nothing more than a total and a final apostacy; upon which account they are induced to pray against it, and to desire a broken heart, and that faith, which, at present, they do not experience. In this case, though their state be dangerous, yet they ought not to determine against themselves, that they have committed the sin unto death.
The use which we ought to make of this awful doctrine, and the hope that there is that we have not committed this sin is,
1. That we should take heed that we do not give way to wilful impenitency, and a contempt of the means of grace, lest we should provoke God to give us up to judicial hardness of heart, so as to make sad advances towards the commission thereof: Let us take heed that we do not sin against the light and conviction of our own consciences, and wilfully neglect and oppose the means of grace, which, whether it be the sin unto death or no, is certainly a crime of the most heinous and dangerous tendency.
2. Let doubting christians take heed that they do not give way to Satan's suggestions, tempting them to conclude that they have committed this sin; which they are sometimes afraid that they have, though they might determine that they have not, did they duly weigh what has been but now observed concerning this matter.
3. Let us bless God, that yet there is a door of hope, and resolve by his grace, that we will always wait on him in the ordinances which he has appointed, till he shall be pleased to give us ground to conclude better things concerning ourselves, even things that accompany salvation. This leads us to consider, III. What we are to pray for; particularly,
1. For those things which concern the glory of God. And that we may know what they are, we are to enquire; whether, if God should give us what we ask for, it would have a tendency to set forth any of his divine perfections, and thereby render him amiable and adorable in the eyes of his creatures, so that in answering our prayers, he would act becoming himself? We are also to take an estimate of this matter, from the intimation he has given us hereof in his word, in which we may observe, not only whether he has given us leave, but commands and encourages us to ask for it; more especially, whether he has promised to give it to us; and, whether our receiving the blessing we ask for, has a tendency to fit us for his service, that hereby praise that waits for him, may be ascribed to him.
2. We are to pray for those things which concern our own good, or the good of others. These are particularly insisted on in the Lord's prayer, which is explained in the following answers; therefore it is sufficient for us, at present, to consider the good we are to pray for in general, namely, temporal blessings, which are the effects of divine bounty, concerning which, our Saviour says, Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things, Mat. vi. 32. We are also to pray for spiritual blessings, such as forgiveness of sin, strength against it, and the sanctifying influences of the Spirit, to produce in us holiness of heart and life; as also, for deliverance from, and victory over our spiritual enemies. We are also to pray for the consolations of the holy Ghost, arising from assurance of the love of God, whereby we may have peace and joy in believing; and for all those blessings which may make us happy in a better world.
3. We are to pray for those things which are lawful to be asked of God; and accordingly,
(1.) The things we pray for, must be such as it is possible for us to receive, and particularly such as God has determined to bestow, or given us ground to expect, in this present world : Therefore we are not to pray for those blessings to be applied here, which he has reserved for the heavenly state; such as a perfect freedom from sin, tribulation or temptation, or our enjoying the immediate views of the glory of God: These things are to be desired in that time and order, in which God has determined to bestow them; therefore we are to wait for them till we come to heaven, and, at present, we are to desire only to be made partakers of those privileges which he gives to his children in their way thither.
(2.) We are not to pray that God would inflict evils on others, to satisfy our private revenge for injuries done us; since this is, in itself, unlawful, and unbecoming a Christian frame of spirit, and contrary to that duty which was before
considered, of our praying for our very enemies, and seeking their good.
(3.) We are not to ask for outward blessings without setting bounds to our desires thereof; nor are we to ask for them unseasonably, or for wrong ends. We are not to pray for them as though they were our chief good and happiness, or of equal importance with things that are more immediately conducive to our spiritual advantage; and therefore, whatever measure of importunity we express in praying for them, it is not to be inconsistent with an entire submission to the divine will, as being satisfied that God knows what is best for us; or, whether that which we desire, will, in the end, prove good or hurtful to us; much less ought we to ask for outward blessings, that we may abuse, and, as the apostle James speaks, Consume them upon our lusts, James iv. 3.
QUEST. CLXXXV. How are we to pray?
ANSW. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the
Majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins, with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts, with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.
HIS answer respects the manner of performing this duty, with are
1. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the Majesty of God; otherwise our behaviour would be highly resented by him, and reckoned no other than a thinking him altogether such an one as ourselves. Some of the divine per fections have a more immediate tendency to excite an holy reverence; accordingly we are to consider him as omnipresent, and omniscient, to whom our secret thoughts, and the principle from whence our actions proceed, are better known than they can be to themselves. We are to conceive of him as a God of infinite holiness; and therefore he cannot but be highly displeased with that worship that is opposite thereunto, as proceeding from a conscience defiled with sin, or performed in an unholy manner. Thus the prophet says, Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity, Hab. i. 13. that is, thou canst not behold it without the utmost detestation; and therefore, if we regard it in our heart, he will not hear our prayers, Psal. lxvi. 18. We are also to have a due sense of the spirituality of his nature, that we may worship
him in a spiritual manner; therefore we are not to entertain any carnal conceptions, or frame any ideas of him, like those we have of finite or corporeal beings; nor are we to think it sufficient, that our external mien and deportment have been grave, and carried in it a shew of reverence, when our hearts have not, at the same time, been engaged in this duty, or disposed to give him the glory that is due to his name. We are also to draw nigh to him with a due sense of those perfections that tend to encourage us to perform this duty, with hope of finding acceptance in his sight. Therefore we are to conceive of him, as a God of infinite goodness, mercy, and faithfulness, with whom is plenteous redemption, in and through a Mediator, which is suitable to our condition, as indigent, miserabie, and guilty sinners; and a God of infinite power, who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we are able to ask or think, Eph. iii. 20.
2. We are to pray to God with an humble sense of our own unworthiness. This is the necessary result of those high conceptions we have of his divine excellency and greatness; whereby we are led to consider ourselves as infinitely below him; and, indeed, the best of creatures are induced hereby to worship him with the greatest humility: Thus the Seraphim are represented in that vision, which the prophet Isaiah had of them, as ministering to, and attending upon our Lord Jesus, when sitting on a throne on his temple; as covering their faces and their feet with their wings, denoting their unworthiness to behold his glory, or to be employed by him in his service, Isa. vi. 1-4. But when we take a view of his infinite holiness, and our own impurity, this should be an inducement to us to draw nigh to him, with the greatest humility: As dependent creatures, we have nothing but what we derive from him; as frail dying creatures, we wither away, and are brought to nothing, Job xiii. 25. Job compares this to a leaf that is easily broken, and driven to and fro, or to the dry stubble, that can make no resistance against the wind that pursues it; and the Psalmist, speaking of man in general, says, Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him; or the son of man, that thou makest account of him? Psal. civ. 3. And elsewhere it is said, What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him, and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? Job vii. 17. These are humbling considerations; but we shall be led into a farther sense of our own unworthiness, when we consider ourselves as sinful creatures, worthy to be abhorred by God; therefore he might justly reject us, and refuse to answer our prayers. But since this humble frame of spirit is so necessary for the right performance of this duty, let us farther observe, as an inducement hereunto.