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Fourthly. Prayer is useful to Individuals, as it teaches them their Dependence on God.
The act of asking for blessings in Prayer, which is its primary employment, brings up forcibly to our view the impossibility of furnishing them to ourselves. The blessings also, for which we ask, are seen to be absolutely necessary for us, and such as none but God can give. They are the result of Infinite Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, alone. Of these Interesting truths, the suppliant cannot fail to perceive the clearest evidence, and to experience the strongest impression.
To this sense of dependence on God, our Adoration, in which We recite his glorious perfections in the most solemn manner; our Confession, in which we recount our sins and wants, our infinite need of forgiveness, and our utter insufficiency to supply ourselves with the necessary good; and our Thanksgiving, in which we ac. knowledge, that all the blessings, enjoyed by us, have come from God only; irresistibly conspire to make large additions. As the God, whose immensely great and glorious Character we humbly and solemnly repeat, is presented to our view as rich in all good; we feel ourselves to be poor, and little, and sinful, and naked, and in want of all things.
Alone, withdrawn from the world, in the immediate presence of JEHOVAH, we cannot but see these things in the strongest light, and by themselves. The eye of the mind is turned solely, and intensely, upon them, and prevented from the obscurity, confusion, and consequent perplexity, which necessarily attend all complicated views. With such apprehensions, we can scarcely fail to feel, in the deepest manner, this most important subject. It becomes the burden of our thoughts, and our language. The value of the blessings themselves, our indebtedness to God for them, our own unworthiness of them all, and the mercy, manifested in bestowing them, unitedly impress them on our hearts with a force peculiar and pre-eminent.
As the pardon of our sins, and the justification, adoption, and sanctification, of our souls, constitute the means of all other good; so they are seen, felt, and acknowledged, even by the convinced sinner, to be his own, highest, and immediate good. For this good, he will cry with intense earnestness to Him, in whom alone he finds either ability, or disposition, to communicate this invaluable blessing. With deep humiliation, with intense anguish, he casts himself at the foot of the cross, with the prayer of the publican, God be merciful to me a sinner ; or with that of the disciples, when the ship, in which they were conveyed, was ready to sink ; Lord, save me, or I perish!' In this situation of the soul, desponding, convinced of its guilt and danger, and feeling the infinite necessity of forgiveness and renovation, God, in all his or. dinary Providence, has been graciously pleased to extend mercy to sinners, and to bring them into his Kingdom. This is not
done because of any excellency in their prayers, or in their characters; for no such excellency exists ; but because they infinitely need his mercy; and also, if I am not deceived, because there is an evident propriety in bestowing it on them, when in this situation, rather than while they are stupid, blind, and hardened in their sins.
The Christian, in the same manner, learns with still more clearness, and stronger affections, his own absolute dependence on his Maker. All his springs of holiness, and happiness, he perceives to be in God. Innumerable sins he discovers lying at his door; many and various lusts remaining in his heart; wants of many kinds, and of great importance, rising up continually to his view; his guilt dreadfully great, and his danger extreme. No being, but God, can remove the evils, from which he suffers, or those which he dreads. None, but God, can supply the blessings, which he feels to be his all.
In the whole of the Christian course, he realizes, in the most affecting manner, his absolute necessity of being enabled by the grace of God to resist temptations, to overcome lust, to vanquish enemies, to subdue sin, and to advance in obedience. Every evil affection he sees capable of being removed, or lessened, by the assistance of God only: and by the same assistance he must be furnished with all his ability to livé a holy life, and to cultivate every virtuous propensity. From God only, he also knows, must be derived his daily hope, support, and consolation ; peace of mind, evidence of the love of God, increase in grace, and a patient continuance in well-doing. God only can cleanse his soul, refine and exalt his views, remove his fears, quicken his affections, brighten his hopes, and multiply his joys. All these are blessings, possessed by none beside the Infinite Mind; and gifts of none but the Almighty Hand. At the same time, they are blessings, which God is supremely pleased to bestow. His nature is bounty; and giving is his favourite employment.
But he is pleased to be inquired of for all blessings. Ready as he is to bestow, it is his pleasure, that all his rational creatures should ask. Accordingly he requires all flesh to come to him with their requests; and, for their encouragement, styles himself a God hearing prayer. With these delightful views of the Divine Char. acter, and with affecting apprehensions of his own circumstances, every Christian comes to God; and finds in prayer peculiar en couragement, hope, assistance, strength, enjoyment, and universal edification.
Fifthly. Prayer is useful to Individuals, as it furnishes to them the best views of the Divine Character.
Prayer brings home to the mind the Character of God with peculiar advantage in many ways. Some of these have been already mentioned ; as being inseparably connected with the subjects
, ; which I have had occasion to consider. Several others I shall
now briefly recount. It is impossible, that a suppliant should fail to remember, with peculiar strength and conviction, this Glorious Being as his Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor, his Father, Rede. mer, and Sanctifier. These are themes of his prayer, in all the parts of it; and are perpetually recurring. They rise in his adoration, confession, thanksgivings, and petitions. They rise in every profitable form. He cannot think of a want, a sin, or a blessing, without realizing against whom his sins have been committed, by whom his wants must be supplied, and from whom his blessings must flow. He cannot but recall with deep affection the justice of that great Being, whom he has offended; the holiness of Him, whose image he is required to exhibit; the purity of Him, whose all-seeing eye is intent on his sins; the power of Him, by whom he was created, and has been alway preserved; and the goodness, faithfulness, truth, and mercy, of Him, to whose mercy, truth, and faithfulness, he must be indebted for the forgiveness of bis sins, and the performance of all the promises, contained in the Covenant of Grace, and to whose goodness he must owe every future blessing of time and eternity.
In Prayer, God literally draws nigh to him, and he to God. In a sense, he beholds his character in full view; as we distinctly see near objects with the bodily eye. The Divine Perfections are, therefore, realized, and acknowledged ; and not merely, and loosely, proved by argument to our understandings. Like Job, he before had heard of God by the hearing of the ear; but now his seeth him. As his prayers return daily ; so his views, returning with them, soon become habitual; and, like other habitual things, become continually stronger and stronger, more and more bright, just, and affecting. The great, glorious, and delightful character, on which he so frequently dwells, is in a sense instamped on his heart; and always realized, and enjoyed. Thus a peace and satisfaction are derived to him from prayer, for which nothing can be a substitute. By prayer, therefore, as a Christian he lives; and lives with holiness and wisdom, daily increasing; is continually a better man in all the relations of the present life, and a more and more proper candidate for immortal happiness in the world above.
That each of the several things, which I have mentioned as effects flowing from the performance of this duty, is, in an eminent degree, useful to him who performs it, will be questioned by no sober man. Still more strongly will it be perceived, that all these advantages, united, must be of pre-eminent importance. To be destitute of them must be, in the spiritual sense, to be poor, and wrelched, and miserable. All of them, however, exhibit this subject, when considered by themselves, in an imperfect manner. These views, and dispositions, in their connexions and consequences, are branched out into others; and then into others still; in such numbers, in so continual a succession, and with such effi
cacious influence, as to affect with the greatest advantage the whole Christian character, and to reach through every part of the Christian life. Every where, their influence is felt; and wherever it is felt, is benign and happy. Hence the Scriptures insist so abundantly on the performance of this duty; and, to secure their benevolent purpose, multiply, every where, commands, examples, and promises.
REMARKS. From this summary and imperfect account of the Usefulness of Prayer to Individuals, I remark,
1. That he, who does not habitually pray to God, cannot be a Christian.
God has commanded us to pray to him; and is pleased to be inquired of by his creatures for all the good which they need. He, who does not pray, violates continually a plain command of the Scriptures; and proves himself indifferent to the great and comprehensive duty of obeying his Maker. But this is a contradiction co the whole Christian character.
This, however, is not the only ground of the conclusion; nor that, on which I meant principally to insist at the present time. In the character, and circumstances, of a Christian, is laid the most solid foundation of habitual prayer. His sins perpetually present to him the infinite necessity of forgiveness and sanctification. His love to God, and his good-will to mankind, excite in him, by their very nature, unceasing desires, and generate vigorous efforts, to increase this Evangelical character. His faith in Christ, and his disposition to obey his commands, require continual additions of strength ; and the peculiar consolation, peace, and hope, which he finds in prayer, and which without prayer, he cannot find, call unceasingly upon him to be faithful, steadfast, and fervent, in this duty. A hungry man might as well be expected to abstain from food; or a thirsty man from drink; as a Christian from prayer. Prayer is the breath on which Christianity lives; and from which it derives peculiarly its power, activity, and enjoyment. Mark the manner, in which David describes his distress in being cut off from the solemn services of the tabernacle; and the relief, the comfort, the strength, and the joy, which he found when he drew nigh to that holy place. Mark the discourses of our Saviour on this subject; and the most edifying example of performing this duty, which he has left on record for our imitation. Attend diligently to the commands, exhortations, and encouragements, given by St. Paul, to engage us to continue always in all prayer. Here you will see with the most certain evidence how naturally, and how irresistibly, holiness prompts to the performance of this duty. Such is the spirit, by which all Christians are governed, and without which no man can be a Christian. By our fruits are we known both to ourselves and to others, Prayer is the prominent fruit of the Christian spirit; Vol. IV.
and, where this fruit is not found, it will be in vain to search for the tree.
From these observations we easily learn the reason, why hypocrites rarely continue steadfast for any length of time in secret prayer. A sinner, under strong convictions of sin, will betake himself of course to his closet. Why will he do this? He is still a sinner, and a stranger to the Evangelical character. He finds no part of the Christian's pleasure in things divine ; in obedience to God, or the contemplation of his perfections, commands, or designs; in his Sabbath, Word, or Ordinances. Of that relish for spiritual objects, which is implanted in Regeneration, and which constitutes what is called the spiritual mind, he is wholly destitute. In seeking salvation, however, he is altogether in earnest ; and in seeking the forgiveness of his sins, and the sanctification of his heart, as indispensable means of this most interesting attainment. Hence he prays. But to this character the hy is a stranger; and feels not, therefore, these inducements to prayer.
Still more is he a stranger to the views, affections, and enjoy. ments, of a Christian. For spiritual objects he has no relish, no desire. In the character of God, the character of Christ, and the nature of religion, he finds no pleasure, and sees no profit; except so far as hypocrisy may increase his reputation, and promote his selfish purposes. For this, his governing end, he will often appear more engaged in religion, when he expects to be seen by men, than Christians themselves. In public and family prayer he will frequently be exact and abundant; because this conduct will gain him the character, which he covets. Here others see him. Here, therefore, he finds an advantage, sufficient to excite his perseverance in these external services.
But in secret prayer there can be no gain, beside that which is spiritual and immortal. No reputation can spring from conduct, unknown to men. If, therefore, the hypocrite begins the performance of this duty; he will usually soon desist; because on the one hand, he has no anxiety about salvation, and on the other, no delight in the duty. Accordingly, Job says of the hypocrite, Will he delight himself in the Almighty ? Will he always call
God? that is, he will not always call upon God. He will, at times, call upon God for a little period; but will cease, of course, from this duty, after that period is ended; because he expects from it neither
l profit nor pleasure.
2. From these observations it is evident also, that he who does not pray, is guilty of pre-eminent folly.
Prayer is the only communication between mankind and their Maker, and the only means of obtaining blessings from Him. The man who refuses, or neglects, to pray, voluntarily cuts himself off, therefore, from all hope of good. The easiest, least expensive, least burdensome, possible mode of acquiring good, is to ask for it.