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SERMON CXLII. .
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.-THE USEFULNESS OF PRAYER
TO COMMUNITIES. ITS EFFICACY IN PROCURING BLESSINGS. ENCOURAGEMENTS TO PRAYER.
Psalm lxxiii. 28.-It is good for me to draw near unto God.
In the last discourse, I considered the Usefulness of Prayer to Families. The next thing proposed for discussion was its Usefulness to Communities.
It may be proper to remind my audience, that the usefulness of prayer was originally mentioned as two-fold; consisting,
1. In its immediate iufluence on the Suppliant ; and, 2. Ils Eficacy in procuring Blessings. It may be proper further to observe, that, next to the Usefulness of prayer, I proposed to examine the Encouragements to this duty. These three subjects will be considered in the present discourse.
In the Text, the Psalmist declares, that it was good for him to draw near to God. If it was good, that is, profitable, for the Psalmist to perform this duty; it must without a question be equally profitable to every other individual, who prays with the same spirit. There was nothing in the character of David, which rendered prayer more beneficial to him, than it may be to others. He prayed frequently, faithfully, and earnestly. All
, who pray in the same manner, will find the same benefits. Nor will this usefulness be, in any degree, lessened by the communion of multitudes in this solemn service. On the contrary, it will be increased. The power of sympathy cannot fail to enhance the fervour of prayer, when offered up to God by numerous bodies of mankind. Whatever advantages, then, result from prayer, generally considered, whether offered up in the closet, or in the family, all these will result from the prayer of Communities. Beside these, public prayer is accompanied by several advantages, in a great measure peculiar to itself. Particularly,
1. Public Worship is in a prime degree constituted of Public prayer.
The benefits of public worship I have considered at large in a former discourse. “All these benefits are not, I confess, derived
, solely from Public prayer. They are, however, so connected with it
, as, in a remoter sense, to be justly attributable to its proper influence. It seems scarcely probable, that without public prayer, the other ordinances of public worship would be celebrated at all; or the Sabbath at all observed. If we did not feel our dependence upon God for all good, and the absolute necessi
ty of deriving, and asking, it from him ; there would, apparently, be no motives, of sufficient efficacy to preserve public worship in the world. If public prayer were to cease; the Sabbath, it is to be feared, would be forgotten, and the sanctuary deserted.
These things being admitted, it follows, that all the blessings, above mentioned, are derived from public prayer; not, indeed, immediately ; but ultimately. On their importance I need not now expatiate.
2. Public prayer, above all things, preserves alive a sense of National dependence on God.
The prime mean of preserving in the mind of an individual a sense of his own dependence on his Maker is, confessedly, prayer; as has been shown at large in a preceding discourse. On families, and on nations, its influence is the same. No human emotion has a more advantageous influence on the mind than this. It affects men deeply in all stations and circumstances; and affects them all happily. It is a feeling, perfectly just; and the only just feeling respecting the subject. It is a feeling of high importance: it is a feeling of the most useful tendency.
On Rulers its influence is that, and only that, which they need to incline them to rule justly and in the fear of God. A ruler, who feels his dependence on his Maker, will be just, of course; because he knows, that God is just, and demands exact justice of him; because he knows, that God is an eye-witness of all his conduct; and because he knows he must give an account of that conduct, and be rewarded according to its nature. If he does that, which is right; he is assured of acceptance: if not; sin, he is equally assured, will lie at his door.
With such a sense of his dependence, a ruler will be merciful also; because he knows, that God is merciful, that he loves those who are merciful, and requires mercy of all men, and peculiarly of rulers; because he knows, that mercy and truth uphold the throne of a king, and the office of every other ruler : and because he knows, that, in the end, he himself will infinitely need mercy, that God has pronounced the merciful, blessed, and promised that they shall obtain mercy, and has awfully declared, that he shall have judgment without mercy,
who sheweth no mercy. With this sense of dependence, also, a ruler will be humble. In the sight of God, every man, however high his station, howev. er extensive his power, is merely a worm of the dust, and crushed before the moth. To a being so frail, so feeble, so dependent, pride cannot belong. His own littleness cannot fail to stare him in the face, whenever he remembers, that every thing, which he has, or is, or will be, has been, and must be, solely derived from God; and for its continuance must depend solely on his pleasure. It is impossible for a mind, fraught with these sentiments, not to forget the haughtiness of power, and the splendour of station. At the same time, a ruler thus disposed will ever call to mind, that
the poor in spirit, the meek, and the humble, are the only persons, to whom good is promised in the Gospel. The haughtiness of man, it is there declared, shall be brought low, and the pride of all human glory shall be stained. It is there declared, that every proud man is an abomination to the Lord, and shall be stubble for the final day.
It is scarcely necessary to observe, how important these attributes are to every ruler, or how beneficial they invariably prove to subjects. With such a character, the ruler cannot fail to be equitable in his laws and administrations, reasonable in his exaction and management of public property, clement in the distribution of justice, conscientious in the performance of every duty, and universally a minister of God for good to his people.
A corresponding influence, equally happy, will the same sense of dependence have on those who are ruled. The same general conscientiousness will prevail in their minds; a scrupulous obedience to all laws, and lawful authority; and a steady attachment to the good order and peace, secured by a wise administration.
Men, formed to sentiments and habits of this nature, are, almost wholly, a different kind of beings from those, to whom such sentiments are unknown.
The motives, by which these two classes of men are governed, are totally diverse. Those of the former class are swayed by the fear and love of God, a disposition to obey him, the dictates of conscience, the hope of final approbation, and the dread of final ruin. Those of the latter class are influenced only by present, selfish considerations; and universally inquire how much they shall gain by submission to Government, or how much they shall lose by revolt. The former obey rulers, are just and kind to each other, and perform all the duties owed to their fellow-men, from conscience and principle. The latter, so far as they perform these duties at all, perform them from convenience only. On the former class, full reliance may be uniformly placed. To the latter, no confidence can safely attach, except when their duty and their selfishness coincide. The obedience of the former is voluntary; that of the latter, mercenary and venal.
Between rulers and subjects, governed by this sense of dependence on their Maker, arises, of course, an universal confidence. In a country, thus influenced, the government can therefore easily, and will naturally, be mild and gentle. In every other, it must ultimately be a system of coercion, an administration of force. Society in such a country, is established on sounder principles, is formed with juster views, and assumes a nobler character. It is the society of reason, of friendship, of virtue, of piety. Every thing in the understanding, the heart, and the life, is more accordant with the commands of God, and therefore with truth and rectitude. The bonds, which bind the society together, are stronger ;
the trespasses against human happiness are fewer, and less atrocious; the punishments inflicted by the magistrate are milder, and more rare ; and the safety, comfort, and prosperity, enjoyed, are more absolute, uniform, and entire.
Of all these blessings, Prayer, both public and private, is in such a sense the source, that without it they never existed in this corrupt world, and never will exist. Nor will their extent ever fail to be proportioned to the prevalence of this duty.
I have now finished the observations, which I intended, concerning the Usefulness of prayer by its proper Influence on the Suppliant. The next subject, which demands our attention, according to the plan proposed, is its Eficacy in procuring blessings from God.
Every considerate man will see infinite motives inviting him to pray, when he discerns, that prayer will of course make him a wiser and a better man, recommend him to the approbation and favour of God, and prepare him to receive blessings from his hands ; when he perceives, that in praying he has become obedient to a high and solemn command, and more attempered to the spirit and character of heaven. These are the most estimable of all blessings : and, as they are blessings of such import in themselves, and extend throughout eternity, their value, it is plain, cannot be measured.
But to many minds, the hope of being actually answered, and directly, blessed with good, of some extraneous kind, not inwrought in the personal character, and distinct from personal improvement and distant fruition, is usually a still more powerful persuasive to prayer. Some persons would be moved by this consideration, who would imperfectly feel the other, great and obvious as it appears. It is also a consideration founded in truth and reality; and for both reasons, merits a place in this system of discourses.
If I am not deceived, the following observations will place it in a convincing light.
1. From the influence, which prayer has naturally on the suppliant, there is no small probability, that God will grant blessings in answer to the petitions of those, who faithfully perform this duty.
From the observations, made in a former discourse concerning the influence, which prayer has on the suppliant, it is evident, that by the faithful performance of this duty he is, in all respects, made a fitter recipient of blessings, than he can be otherwise. No rational doubt can be entertained, that God will bestow his blessings on such, as are thus fitted to receive them, rather than on such, as are not. It is evidently proper, that he should regard with compassion and kindness, and that he should communicate good to, those, who felt their dependence on him; acknowledged his sufficiency, and disposition, to supply their wants ; humbly besought his mercy; realized their own undeserving character; and were grateful to him for every blessing, which they received; when
with equal propriety he would refuse the same blessings to men, who felt no dependence but on themselves; who were too indif. ferent, too lazy, or too proud, to ask ; who questioned his right to require, and their own obligation to perform, this duty; or who were too ungrateful to acknowledge their own indebtedness to him for the mercies, which they received, or his goodness in bestowing them. Were God to pursue any other course of administrations, it is difficult to conceive how he could act as a moral governor, and secure, without coercion, the obedience of his subjects.
2. The instances are numerous, in which blessings are actually given in answer to prayer.
I am well aware of the objection, which lies against this doctrine. It may, I am sensible, be always said in reply, that we know not whether the same blessings would not have descended, if prayers had not been offered up for them. Without the aid of Revelation, I acknowledge, this cannot be known with certainty: since he, who gives blessings, is the only being, who originally knows the reason, for which he gives them. Still
, from the course of providence merely, the probability is strong, that the blessings in question are given, only in answer to prayer. In support of this assertion 1 observe, that blessings have in many instances been given, after fervent prayers have ascended to God, when none but God could have contributed to their existence; when they were utterly unattainable by any human efforts; after all such efforts had been made without success; after all hope of obtaining them, except by prayer, had vanished; and when, Give us help, from
! trouble, for vain is the help of man, had become the only language, seriously thought of by those who were concerned. Of such instances I could easily mention a considerable number. Many more, there is every reason to believe, are remarked by every observing, religious man. Many more still would, I doubt not, have
, been remarked, if religious men were more obscrvant, and prayer were more continually and faithfully performed.
It will be said still, that even these blessings might have been given, had they not been supplicated. To this suggestion of possibility the proper answer is, “ They might not." We know they
” were not given without prayer; and have not a shadow of reason to conclude, that, if they had not been prayed for, they would ever have been given. The suggestion, therefore, is useless to the purpose for which it is made.
But the complete proof lies in this ; that certain blessings are not given to men, who do not pray; and those, blessings of the highest importance. Such are Peace of conscience, Joy in the Holy Ghost, the Hope, which maketh not ashamed, Increase of grace, and Final perseverance in piety. These are the best of all blessings: and these are never found by those, who do not pray. They are also blessings, which none but God can give. As there