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Showing How A Man Should Seek The Wisdom Of God By Prayer; Containing Also A Useful Treatise On Prayer, Wherein The Reader Is Taught How The Heart Is To Be Moved Unto Prayer, And Brought Into A Quiet Sabbath, So That Prayer May Be Wrought In Us By The Lord; The Whole Being Set Forth In Twelve Sections.
All That We Have Lost In Adam We Recover Fully And Completely In Christ.
In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.—Col. 2:3.
In the beginning God formed man out of the dust of the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living and immortal soul, adorned with perfect wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and blessedness, after the image of his Creator. For where there is divine wisdom, there is blessedness; and where there is blessedness there is divine wisdom. Man, therefore, wanted nothing in Paradise to make him completely happy. But when, being seduced by the temptation of the serpent, he turned away from God, and fell into sin, then was this divine image in man effaced, and he became subject to the devil, to death, and to misery. For as soon as this divine image was defaced in him by sin, he could discover 270 nothing in himself but misery, blindness, and the curse.
2. But in order that Adam, that is, all men in Adam, might not utterly perish, God himself was made man; that is, he was pleased to send his Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a virgin. The Son of God has, by his holy life and doctrine, as by a pattern, shown us again the way of wisdom and salvation in which we are to walk. For he has not only delivered us from our sins by his most bitter death, but has moreover given us a commandment, that “we should walk, even as he also walked.” 1 John 2:6.
3. We are, therefore, begotten again by him, through faith, to be the sons of God; nay, we are made sons of God in and with his own Son. For “as he is, so are we also in this world.” 1 John 4:17.
5. If we would, in this life, have a foretaste of these great and glorious treasures, it must be obtained by prayer, diligent searching, and continual knocking. For no man can have admission into the kingdom of God, unless he walk in the new birth, and seek it earnestly of God. No man can be delivered from the power of sin and the devil, unless he repent, and offer up his prayers in the name of Christ. For though Christ has purchased for us all good things, yet without faith no man can be partaker of them; in and by faith he must also pray, seek, and knock. In a word, it is by prayer only that we can obtain those “good and perfect gifts which come down from above, from the Father of lights.” James 1:17.
O Eternal God and Father, teach me, I beseech thee, by thy Holy Spirit, that even as I have lost all by dying in Adam, so I may recover all by being made alive again in Christ. Grant that I may daily die to myself, by continual mortification and repentance, and devote and give myself up entirely to thee; that so all the good things which I have lost may be restored to me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Evils That Follow The Neglect Of Prayer.
Ye have not, because ye ask not.—James 4:2.
1. The neglect of prayer is a violation of the commandments of Christ, who commands us to “pray without ceasing” (Matt. 7:7; Luke 18:1), not for His sake, for he well knows what we stand in need of (Matt. 6:32); but for our own, that we may have a portion of the treasures and inheritance of God. He that lives in the neglect of prayer is a breaker of the first and second commandments, even as to blaspheme God is to bring voluntary destruction upon himself.
2. He that neglects the duty of prayer is a despiser of the promises annexed to the performance of that duty. “Call upon me, and I will deliver thee” (Ps. 50:15); “Ask, and ye shall receive” (John 16:24); for he thereby represents God as unmindful of his promises, or as not able to fulfil them.
3. By the neglect of prayer, our faith, which is the great treasure and foundation of the inward man, by degrees 271 decays and perishes. For not by the arm or power of flesh, but by faith in Christ, can we conquer sin, death, and the devil. 1 John 5:4. Prayer is the nourishment of faith; and this is that wisdom and eternal life which we must seek for by diligent prayer.
4. The Lord Jesus departs from them that despise prayer; so that they are blinded and walk in darkness, knowing neither themselves nor God, but are strangers to his will. They shut the kingdom of heaven against themselves; and, being destitute of light to know the will of God, they fall into many dangers and temptations, and sometimes into despair: whereas, on the contrary, where there are the Holy Spirit and faith, there the world is overcome.
5. He that neglects prayer enters into a state of carnal security, and every kind of iniquity. Such a man is not sensible how deeply he is engaged in sin; but rushes into all the avenues of destruction which lie open to receive him. The good things of this world which God has given him, such as health and riches, he regards as things that come by chance, or are secured by his own labor; and upon that account he has no gratitude to his Creator and Benefactor.
6. As man, since his fall, is exposed to continual dangers, both of body and soul, so is he particularly in danger from the devil, evil spirits, and wicked men, who, like the devil, are continually plotting the destruction of the righteous. Whosoever, therefore, neglects prayer, will be, in the midst of these temptations, like a ship tost in a storm, without help or hopes of escape.
7. Such a one also leads a most unhappy life; he is in continual difficulties and fears, being perplexed, doubtful, and uneasy about the success of his affairs. His head and hands are full of business; yet he sees but little fruit of his labors, and even that little is in the end unblessed. Therefore, though the Scripture says that “the wicked may be seen in great power,” yet it adds, “they pass away, and are not.” Ps. 37:35, 36. They are “like the chaff which the wind driveth away.” Ps. 1:4. On the other hand, they that seek unto God by prayer “shall flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” Ps. 92:12. And “though many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Ps. 34:19), yet the wicked undergo more pain and trouble to go to hell than the righteous do to obtain heaven.
Most merciful and compassionate Father, thou knowest that man renders himself miserable by his own negligence and sloth, whilst he transgresses thy commands, and neglects the duty of prayer, contemning and slighting thy most certain and faithful promises. But because thou lovest thy creatures, and art not willing that any should perish, therefore it is that thou dost so earnestly invite us to the exercise of prayer. Give me grace to lay this continually to heart, that I may be able to offer up my prayers aright, through thy Son Jesus Christ, and be delivered from the punishments and miseries due to the despisers of that holy duty. Amen.
The Benefits Of Continual Prayer.
Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.—John 16:24.
1. Man, since his fall, is become slothful and inactive in everything that is 272 good. He, therefore, that would escape this unhappy state, and the destruction that will certainly attend it, must stir himself up by prayer; and by holy meditation conquer his aversion to divine things, and devoutly consider with himself the advantages of prayer. Let him reflect, that he thereby praises, honors, and adores the eternal, living, and true God; that he does not worship any strange God; but offers up his most earnest supplications to the only one and true God, whose commands, like an obedient child, he ought to obey, and show forth the praises of his Creator, Father, and Saviour.
2. He that prays does not despise the promises of God, but testifies by his prayers that he sets a just value upon them, acknowledging that God is true, and that he neither can nor will lie.
3. Prayer is the life of faith, causing it to flourish and prosper like a tree by the river side, and faith is the root of all that is good in us. Faith is our power, our spiritual consolation, our strength against all our enemies and temptations, yea, faith is our “victory that overcometh the world” (1 John 5:4); and consequently everything else that opposes and hinders us in our spiritual warfare.
4. By prayer, we receive the Holy Spirit. Luke 11:13; Zech. 12:10. By prayer, we make room for the Holy Spirit to work and exert his power in us, and by this means to come and make his abode with us. John 14:23. By prayer, we obtain the true light and knowledge of God, so as perfectly to understand his will; and, by prayer, we abide in his kingdom, and are partakers of the blessings of heaven.
6. By prayer, we oppose temptations, dangers, afflictions, the devil, and wicked men. For prayer is a strong tower of defence against our enemies, and the holy fortress to which we must have recourse (Eph. 6:18; Prov. 18:10; Ps. 31:3); and though the devil and wicked men raise the greatest opposition, yet “all things work together for good to them that love God.” Rom. 8:28.
7. Lastly, he that continually watches unto prayer may always thankfully rejoice in the Holy Ghost; according to the doctrine of St. Paul, “Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks.” 1 Thess. 5:16-18. For the comfortable addresses made to God, the eternal King, by prayer, are an effectual remedy against sorrow, trouble, misery, and affliction; and produce joy, peace, and tranquillity in the hearts of the faithful; and when our prayers are right, we are assured that all our righteous designs shall prosper in our hands “whilst we cast our care upon God.” 1 Pet. 5:7. “The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing.” Phil. 4:5, 6. “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass.” Ps. 37:5. For all solicitude arises from a distrust of God, which naturally proceeds from the neglect of prayer. On the contrary, faith and prayer give us confidence towards God, and are the proper antidote against all anxiety and trouble of mind.
Help me, O Lord my God, that I may continually call to mind, that it is for my own sake that thou invitest and urgest me to the exercise of prayer. 273 Do thou rouse me, and I shall arise; awaken thou me, and I shall awake, and follow Christ alone. Amen.
The True Christian Chooses The Narrow Way In Christ, Rather Than The Broad Way In Adam.
We glory in tribulations.—Rom. 5:3.
1. The Scripture teaches us that when Adam was placed in Paradise, God showed him the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and forbade him to eat of it (Gen. 2:9, 17); so that Adam was thus placed between time and eternity. Life and death, light and darkness (Deut. 30:15), were set before him, that he might qualify himself for eternal glory in the narrow way. Our case is just the same. For since the fall of Adam, Christ comes to us, and endeavors to draw us from the broad way in Adam, to the narrow way, which is himself; and this he does gently and without violence, resolving to force no man either to his salvation or his condemnation. He shows us the way by his prevenient grace, which is bestowed on all men without exception. Christ now says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction; and many there be that go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matt. 7:13, 14.
2. Here we plainly see two paths set before us: the one is the way of the world, in which many walk, because they continue in Adam, and refuse Christ; the other is the way of God, in which few walk, because they prefer the broad way in Adam. Many are the difficulties which attend both these paths. If you conform yourself to the world, you will meet with many troubles and vexations; and, not being established in the truth of God, your lot finally is eternal damnation. But if you enter into the way of God through Christ, and persevere in prayer, you must expect to suffer with Christ, from the opposition of this evil world: but, at the same time, your heart shall be constantly filled with the refreshing consolations of the Spirit of truth, and in the end, you shall obtain everlasting life. 2 Tim. 2:11, 12; 3:12.
3. He that prays, fights against the devil and his own corrupt nature; overcomes himself, the devil, and all the enemies of his salvation; and shall at last with Christ, the Captain of his salvation (Heb. 2:10), enter into everlasting rest.
4. But he that lives in the neglect of prayer, makes no progress in the conquest of his spiritual enemies; but is a miserable slave of the world, and shall at last, with the prince of darkness, be condemned to everlasting misery.
5. It is better to fight now, and to enter triumphantly into everlasting glory, than not to fight, and yet endure many afflictions, and at last be doomed to everlasting destruction.
Oh that men would but consider these things! They would then loathe and despise this present world; would hate and deny themselves, and would follow Christ alone, in the narrow way of the cross. That we may, therefore, seriously lay these things to heart; that we may renounce the old Adam within us, and put on the new man, Christ Jesus: and at last, through the narrow way, enter into everlasting life, may God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.274
Considerations Which Should Move The Heart To Commune With God In Prayer.
Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?—Jer. 23:23.
1. It is of great use to us, to have before us certain heads which may serve as encouragements to the exercise of earnest prayer, which is that worship in spirit and in truth, which God requires of all his servants.
2. I. First, then, we must consider that “God knows what things we have need of, before we ask him.” Matt. 6:8.
3. II. That God draws, invites, and encourages us to the exercise of prayer, and assuredly promises that he will hear our prayers. Ps. 50:15.
4. III. That God is no respecter of persons, but has an equal regard for all mankind. Acts 10:34.
5. IV. That he is as sinful who presumes to pray upon the opinion of his own righteousness, merit, and holiness, as he that is afraid to pray out of a sense of his own sins and unworthiness. Luke 18:11, 14.
6. V. That God is not confined to any certain place, where only we ought to worship him; but that he is everywhere to be found, and is always “nigh to them that call upon him.” John 4:21, 22; Ps. 145:18.
7. VI. That God is, in his own eternity, unchangeable, and not confined to any certain time; but is always attentive to the prayers of his servants. 1 Thess. 5:17.
8. VII. That God anticipates our prayers, and gives us both natural and supernatural blessings, which yet, without prayer, nobody can truly enjoy.
9. These considerations will renew and awaken every soul that shall duly attend to them (Eph. 5:14): they will cleanse them from darkness and error; establish them on the foundation of truth; elevate them towards God; and inflame them with a lively devotion. For from them flow the following lessons:
10. I. That God commands and encourages us to pray, not for His own sake, as if He were ignorant of our wants, but for our sakes, that being quickened by prayer we might know and acknowledge them ourselves.
12. III. That God, who never slumbereth nor sleepeth, needs not to be awakened by our cries, fastings, and watchings; but that these exercises are profitable for man, to awaken and rouse him from the sleep of sin. Ps. 33:18; 34:15.
13. IV. That God is a thousand times more ready to give, than man is to receive. Jer. 32:41.
15. VI. That God is impartial and just in all his works, and is by no means the cause of our blindness, infirmities, ignorance, or miseries; but that wretched man himself is in fault, by neglecting to pray or to seek. Deut. 32:4; Ps. 92:15.
16. VII. That the true worshipper may at all times and in all places, offer up his prayers in spirit and in truth to God the Father, through Christ, provided he do not hinder himself. John 4:21, 23; Luke 18:1, etc.275
17. VIII. That whosoever neglects prayer, deprives himself of the blessed opportunities of speaking to God. Ps. 19:14. Thus the sinner inflicts punishment on himself.
18. IX. That the diligent worshipper doeth good to himself; not of himself but by the prevenient grace of God, which is freely given to all men without exception.
19. Let him that is unacquainted with the preceding heads of meditation, know that he is still far from Christ, and has tasted but little of the truth. He who knows them, and believes them not, is guilty of a very great sin; and, lastly, he that believes them and yet is inactive, and does not stir up himself to the practice of them, but, on the other hand, lives on from day to day, in a state of doubt and indifference, is a great sinner, and shall be beaten with many more stripes than he who knew not his Lord's will, and therefore did it not. Luke 12:47. Let the one last mentioned look carefully to himself, that he may be seriously converted, and not perish in his sins.
O Lord, and merciful Father, awaken me by thy Holy Spirit, that I may not only know those things, but may practise them by a lively faith, and become a true worshipper in spirit and in truth. Amen.
The Omniscient God Knows What We Stand In Need Of, Before We Ask Him.
Thou understandest my thought afar off.—Ps. 139:2.
1. The truth of these words is confirmed by our blessed Saviour: “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:8); and by David: “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?” (Ps. 94:9); and by St. Paul: “He is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4:12. For our God is not as man, who stands in need of a long account of our necessities. All the possible successions of time are in his sight but as one single moment, in which all things, both past and to come, are beheld as actually present. Therefore, he numbered the hairs of our heads before we were born, and understands all our thoughts before we pray. In a word, all things are naked and open in his sight. Heb. 4: 13. These and similar meditations may be of use, for the encouragement of those who begin the exercise of prayer; so that they may always have certain sentences of Scripture ready at hand, upon which they may meditate, and which they may apply to themselves, by comprising the sense of them in a short prayer. This will be easily understood by those that are exercised herein.
2. A man that walks abroad in an open spacious field, and in a clear day, finds himself encompassed with light; which light, if it were spiritual, instead of being natural, would even penetrate the spirit itself. Just so are all creatures, visible and invisible, in the sight of God. He discerns and comprehends all things, and nothing can be hidden from him. “The darkness hideth not from him; but the night shineth as the day.” Ps. 139:12. He himself is the all-seeing eye, to whom all things are as clear as a mote in transparent crystal would be to our bodily eyes.
3. This consideration is of great use to the inexperienced, in order to purge their hearts from the thick clouds of darkness and error, and to quicken them in prayer; by which, when truly 276 roused and awakened, we discover many great and noble truths that had hitherto been hidden from our eyes. Many are apt to think, that God knows and sees no more than they themselves do; which is the effect of egregious blindness and ignorance, and will merit a proportionable punishment. Ps. 7:9.
Almighty and everlasting God and Father, the Searcher of hearts, and the Judge of all our secret thoughts, who seest, knowest, and hearest all our designs and purposes before they are brought to pass! Behold, I appear before thee, to confess my necessities, not with any design to awaken thee by my cries, as if thou wert ignorant of me, or of my concerns; but to stir up myself to know and consider, that thou knowest all my necessities, and that the very hairs of my head are numbered by thee. Assist me, Holy Father, that I may truly know and consider these things, that my soul may joyfully submit to thy good pleasure, and that I may wait upon thee in true resignation and obedience. Amen.
That God Invites And Engages All Men To The Exercise Of Prayer, And Promises To Hear Their Petitions.
Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.—Joel 2:32.
1. These words ought to be carefully considered; for it is not sufficient to believe that God knows all things; we must also remember that God commands us to pray, and promises to hear us. Thus, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” John 16:23. “Everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” Matt. 7:8. “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Luke 18:1. “If any one lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” James 1:5. “If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” 1 John 5:14. “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Matt. 21:22. In all these places, both a command and a promise are expressed; which must needs make an impression upon every man that has not a heart of stone; and he that does not believe them, is in a desperate state, and deserves not the name of a man. But if these things are true, and acknowledged to be so, why do we not believe them? Why do we not pray? Why are not our prayers heard? Why do we not receive the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit? Verily, because we do not pray with faith, nor wait upon God with constancy and patience. For the property of true faith is to submit ourselves to God, in a quiet and peaceful resignation of mind; but he that wavers, is unfaithful and inconstant, and makes his own prayers void. Moreover, he denies the truth and power of God, making him either unable or unwilling to supply our wants. Both these are signs of a perverse spirit.
2. On the other hand, faith gives quietness to the soul, and makes it capable of divine grace. God requires nothing from man but that he should be quiet, and rest from all his works, and especially from himself. The spirit and mind of man are like waters, upon which the Spirit of God is perpetually moving. Gen. 1:2. So soon as our spirit is quiet, and at rest from the impetuous motions of worldly 277 thoughts, then God rests upon it, and speaks forth the word of his power into such quiet and still waters; and the moment of this divine influx is of more value than the whole world. Still waters are easily warmed by the sun, but violent and rapid streams seldom or never. Unbelief sacrilegiously robs God of his honor, destroying the very names of faith and truth. This changes the Christian into a heathen and atheist, and, unless repented of, will lead to his everlasting destruction.
O Eternal, faithful, and righteous God, who canst not lie; I know that thou dost graciously invite, encourage, and impel all men, for their own infinite advantage, to pray unto thee; and dost offer thy grace and mercy equally to them all, without distinction or partiality. Grant, I beseech thee, Holy Father, that I may seriously lay these things to heart, and attain a true, firm, and upright faith, and not be deaf to the invitations of thy infinite mercy; but may constantly and cheerfully submit myself to thee, and expect with patience thy light within my soul. Amen.
God Is No Respecter Of Persons, But Has An Impartial Love For All His Creatures.
The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.—Ps. 145:9.
1. I am now indeed convinced (some one may say), that God knows my necessities better than I can discover them to him; that he has commanded prayer, and promised to hear it: but I am not yet fully satisfied, whether I in particular am not excluded from the benefit of these promises?—Come, then, and let us now show that God is no respecter of persons, in opposition to those blind guides, who, by their false interpretations of some places of Holy Scripture, particularly Rom. 9:13, Mal. 1:2, and the like, have endeavored to prove that God has an aversion to some particular persons, and a partial fondness for others; contrary to the plain and indisputable testimonies of Holy Scripture, which we ought firmly to fix in our minds, that we may not be perverted by the false glosses of unreasonable men.
“The Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward. He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.” Deut. 10:17, 18.
“God accepteth no man's person.” Gal. 2:6.
“There is no respect of persons with God.” Col. 3:25.
“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.—As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness.—None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him.” Ezek. 33:11, 12, 16.
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a 278 pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” 1 Tim. 1:15, 16.
“God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:4.
“God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Pet. 3:9.
These and such testimonies of Scripture ought to be deeply imprinted on our minds, that every one may know, that all men are equally dear to God; that all men were created by him according to his image, and redeemed by Jesus Christ. Moreover, God has sworn by himself, that he desires not the death of a sinner. Hence God assists us all by his prevenient grace, not waiting till we are worthy to receive it. He comes to us, before we come to him; he knew us, before we knew him; he loveth us, before we love him; he loved us while we were yet his enemies. Rom. 5:10. He, therefore, is blind and impious, who dares assert that God does not love all men alike. Such a one scorns the God of heaven, accuses him of injustice, and makes him a respecter of persons.
2. But when it is said that God loved Jacob, and hated Esau (Rom. 9:13), such language is not to be understood of them personally, or as indicating only hatred, but refers to the exclusion from the inheritance in the land of promise—not to a hatred which refuses salvation, but to the refusal of temporal blessings. And though we are all sinners, yet God has a greater regard for those that love him than for those that continue in their sins and blindness, neither acknowledging God for their Father, nor bringing forth the fruits of repentance. God takes no pleasure in the wickedness of these men; but rather desires that all should be saved. And whereas it is said that “he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will he hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18); we must know that he hardeneth none but those who by their unbelief and impenitence have hardened themselves. These, indeed, he does at length, with reluctance, leave to themselves; and being thus forsaken, they naturally fall into a state of entire obduracy. And whereas it is said, that “it is not of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16); it is plain that God doth elect and anticipate us by his grace, and not we ourselves, and that he is the Author and Giver of all our graces; so that whatsoever good we do, is owing to him, and not to ourselves.
3. This is the true interpretation of those places, which some perverse minds have interpreted, as if God had decreed to damn a great part of mankind (as the poets feigned of Saturn, who hated and devoured his own children). This is a doctrine that tends directly to subvert our faith, and to precipitate men into despair, or into a rude, lawless and Epicurean mode of life, as appears by woful experience. From all which snares, and deceits of the devil, may the Lord deliver us! Amen.
O Eternal and most righteous God, who acceptest not the persons of men; but art so just in thy dispensations towards us all, as to anticipate us with thy grace and favor, not waiting till we are already worthy, but bestowing thy prevenient grace to make us so; teach me, by thy Holy Spirit, gratefully to acknowledge thy boundless mercy towards us. Let thy light arise 279 in my heart, that I may not, with the wicked world, disown that grace which thou hast already bestowed upon me, which is that treasure hidden in the field, the earnest of the inheritance of the saints; but may diligently search after it, find it, taste it, and enjoy it. Amen.
Showing That It Is Equally Sinful To Pray To God Upon The Presumption Of Our Own Merit, And To Forbear On Account Of Our Unworthiness.
Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.—Luke 15:21.
1. He that prays upon the presumption of his own holiness and piety, walketh not in the direct and plain path of the children of God; but turns to the right hand, outruns his Saviour, and, like a sacrilegious robber, deprives him of the honor due unto him (since He alone is our righteousness, our holiness, and our sanctification, 1 Cor. 1:30), and depends entirely upon his own unprofitable works; not acknowledging the merit of Christ alone, but depending upon human righteousness, and believing that God hears our prayers, not for the sake of Jesus Christ, but for the sake of man's good works. But this is directly contrary to Scripture. “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?—But with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.” Ps. 130:3, 7. A man may as well say, that the operation of his eyes causes the light of the sun, as that his own righteousness is the cause of his receiving the grace of God. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elias, &c., were all saved by grace; all joining in that petition, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord, &c.” Ps. 143:2.
2. He, on the other hand, that neglects to pray from a sense of his manifold transgressions, judging himself upon that account unworthy to speak to God, turns to the left hand, and sinks in his own misery and unworthiness, affronting the Son of God, and (without repentance) running into despair; whilst he thinks that the passion and death of Christ are not sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. Against this temptation, let us call to mind, that “where sin abounded, there grace did much more abound.” Rom. 5:20. For our misery appeals to the mercy of God, our weakness to his power, our unworthiness to his majesty, our unrighteousness to his righteousness.
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Tim. 1:15.
“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Ezek. 33:11.
“There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 8:1.
“For this (the remission of sins) shall every one that is godly pray.” Ps. 32:6.
“Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over wise.” Eccles. 7:16.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.
“Righteousness shall look down from heaven.” Ps. 85:11.
3. If I resolve not to pray till I 280 know myself to be worthy, I shall certainly never do it at all. And if I should not desire God to bestow upon me his grace and favor, till by my own strength I became just and holy, I should never obtain anything. Alas, poor man, what canst thou bestow upon him who standeth not in need of thy gifts? Rom. 11:35. Or what canst thou obtain by the workings of thy corrupt nature, which, however specious in thine own eyes, are of no value in the sight of God? Rom. 3:24. Verily, nothing at all. Away, then, with all those who glory in their own righteousness, and pretend to justify themselves; yea, let all creatures keep silence before God. Thine own worthiness will here avail thee nothing, and thine unworthiness shall do thee no harm; for the Lord Jesus Christ, thy Saviour, is he that “forgiveth thy unrighteousness, and covereth all thy sin.” Ps. 32:1. But rather conclude with thyself, that as a drop of water is swallowed up in the sea, so are all thy transgressions in the boundless and incomprehensible mercies of Jesus Christ.
O Merciful and compassionate Father! who teachest me in thy holy word how I ought, in thy Son Jesus Christ, to walk in the narrow way, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left; that I may neither fall through a vain presumption of my own piety, nor be cast into despair by the gloomy prospect of my guilt, and so die in my sins; grant that I may seriously consider that neither my good works can merit, nor my sins hinder, the grace of Christ, my Redeemer; that so I may continue firm and steadfast amidst all my temptations; that I may neither be misled by the evil spirit of presumption and spiritual pride that walketh at noonday, nor be afraid of the destroying angel of despair that walketh in darkness; but that, having conquered the weakness of my nature, I may continue steadfast in the faith, filled with spiritual joy and consolation. Let thy grace, blessed Lord Jesus, begin, carry on, and perfect this good work in me. Amen.
The True Worshipper Ought Not To Seek After God In Any Particular Place; For He Finds Him Everywhere In Spirit And In Truth.
The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.—John 4:21, 23.
1. Where shall we find God? Jer. 23:23. Must we look for him in consecrated temples? Must we seek him in the ends of the earth? Must we search for him in the stars, or at Jerusalem, or upon the top of Mount Tabor? No! but “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23) seek and find him. We are, indeed, sometimes forced to the fatigue of long journeys, in order to make our complaints, and beg the protection of the princes of this world; but God is everywhere; “He filleth heaven and earth” (Jer. 23:24), and is nearer to all creatures than they are to themselves. “He is above all, and through all, and in us all.” Eph. 4:6. The utmost dimensions of space, and even the boundless extent of eternity, appear to him as but a single point. Ps. 139:7. As a man that walks at noonday, in an open field, is environed with light, whether he discern it or be blind, so are all creatures surrounded with the presence of God. These are the waters 281 upon which the Spirit of God moves, penetrating through all beings and all spirits, though ever so pure and glorious. God is always near to us, though many are not so to him, having no more perception of the communications of his presence than a blind man has of the light, which he sees not, though surrounded by it. God never turns away from us; but we, being turned away from him, fall into that degree of blindness, as to say, that God has withdrawn himself from us, and is become unkind to us; whereas, the change is only in ourselves, and in our own hearts, by which we are tempted to charge God foolishly. Thus the sinner, by turning away from God, becomes his own tormentor; whilst God continues unchangeably just and good in all his works (Ps. 145:8); however often man, being blinded and turned away from God, may represent him as an angry, unjust, and unmerciful being.
2. Hence, then, we may gather the genuine sense of those passages of Scripture, which say that “the kingdom of God is within us,” and not without us (Luke 17:21), and that we have nothing to do with “them that are without.” 1 Cor. 5:12. These, without all dispute, are not to be understood of any external place, but of the spirit or inward man, according to the faith. To confine the kingdom of God to any certain place, is antichristian, even as our blessed Lord has told us that men will say, “Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there.” Matt. 24:23. But if any place could save or condemn a man, then Lucifer himself could never have become a devil in heaven; nor would Adam ever have sinned in paradise. So if any place would condemn a man, then should no man living be saved; since this whole world lieth in darkness, and all the inhabitants thereof are under the dominion of the devil, who is the prince of it. John 12:31. He therefore that has faith, though with Jonah he were in the depths of the sea, yet would be in the kingdom of God; and he that has it not, though he were in the church, heard sermons, and would join in acts of communion, yet in the sight of God he is without, and has no part in, or title to, the kingdom of God.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who art the only way, light, and gate of heaven, I praise thee from the bottom of my heart, that by this meditation, thou teachest me how I am in thee, and thou in me, in whatsoever place I am; how thou, my true and only High Priest, art with me, and deliverest me from my sins, whensoever I lift up my heart to thee. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Teach me, O Lord, always to acknowledge this, and not after the manner of this ungrateful world, to undervalue or despise this hidden treasure; but that I may in true faith seek, find, taste, and enjoy it. Amen.
The Worshipper Is Not Restricted To Certain Times Of Prayer, But May At Any Hour Address God In Prayer, Provided That He Does Not Hinder Himself.
In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee.—Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.—Isa. 49:8; 55:6. Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation.—2 Cor. 6:2.
1. From what has been already said concerning the place, and what we are now observing further upon that head, 282 it is plain, that he is truly happy who is in the kingdom of God. The reason of this is, because he has the treasure within him, wheresoever he is; and that he, who, through unbelief, is not in the kingdom of God, is truly a stranger and foreigner, however he may with other Christians, hear sermons and receive the Sacrament. The place will neither save us nor condemn us; that can be done by nothing but faith or unbelief existing in the heart and spirit of man. The true Christian, in whatever place he lives, as he has the Spirit of Christ within him, so he has, by consequence, a principle of grace, pardon, and remission of sins; for Christ is in him. I speak not this to discourage the external exercise of preaching; but for the comfort of all sincere souls under necessities, sickness, or in strange lands; when they are assured that they are truly in Christ, that Christ is in them, and that they are not “without” but “within.” This should also alarm the sinner, who, though living among Christians, yet, in the sight of God is excluded. For every unbeliever cuts himself off from the body of Christ, and from the most valuable privileges of his communion; so that a wicked man, under the agonies of sickness, would receive no benefit by having the Holy Sacrament, though the priest, or even the pope himself stood by him; or by being brought and laid in the midst of the church. But if a man has within him a true and living faith, it could do him no harm, though he should die in a heathen country, or on the sea, without the comfort of the Holy Sacrament, or a priest; because Jesus Christ, the true High Priest, is in him, and even the kingdom of God, as our blessed Lord abundantly testifies John 4:21; Luke 17:21; Matt. 24:23. How blind then and miserable are those men who seek for blessedness from man, confining it to a certain place, and look to external things. This, however, is the case with many thousands who thus lose the internal treasure. Externals are but means, which though not to be despised, yet are not to be valued as the end itself, to which they are intended to lead. Christ is the great treasure of man, who can bestow himself without the use of means, where they cannot be had. We come together in the church, that with one accord we may exhort and admonish one another in the divine Presence, call upon God to avert public evils and calamities, and exercise one another in divine matters, that so we, who are otherwise totally blind in spiritual things, being excited by these means, may at length understand and see that God is not contained “in the heaven of heavens” (1 Kings 8:27), nor confined to any place; being, as Job witnesseth, “high as heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” Job 11:8, 9.
2. What we have observed of place, may be also applied to time, to which the eternal and unchangeable God is by no means confined, so as not to be always at liberty to hear our prayers. Great men and princes of this world are not always to be spoken with, and frequently refuse admittance to their petitioners; being engaged either by the necessities or diversions of life. But our God cannot be thus separated from his creatures; at one view, He sees, and hears, and considers all things that are done upon the earth, and “understandeth our thoughts afar off.” Ps. 139:2. He numbereth “the very hairs of our heads” (Matt. 10:30); and “a thousand years in his sight 283 are but as one day.” Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8. God is not capable of alteration or change; is confined to no time, limited by no place, always ready to hear and to help us; yea, he is continually “standing at the door, and knocking, that we may open to him.” Rev. 3:20. So that he is always ready, but we are not. Whereas if we would constantly and without ceasing wait for Him, we should never fail to receive a ready answer to all our prayers.
3. But alas! the concerns of this lower world have so great an influence upon our minds, distracting our thoughts, and withholding us from devout retirement, that we must endeavor to purify our minds from all thoughts of the creature, according to a devout writer, who advises us, “to lay aside all thoughts of this or that thing, time or place, and bring all the powers of our souls into profound repose.” And in this sabbath or rest of the soul, in this quiet cessation from the cares and labors of corrupt nature, when we pray, God descends with his living word, and the soul of man perceives and tastes the truth and love of God; of which, before this patient preparation, it was wholly ignorant and insensible. So that the soul cannot forbear crying out in the words: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth!” (Exod. 34:6.) “Now, I find thy prevenient grace helping my infirmities, and assisting me to pray as I ought.” Then thou wilt be amazed at the blindness of thy own heart, which gave thee so imperfect a notion of God, as to believe that God was to be persuaded with external ceremonies, and clamorous prayers, and that he stood in need of a long relation of thy wants and necessities; whereas He sees to the very bottom of thy soul, and “understandeth all thy thoughts afar off.”
Almighty, eternal, and most merciful God and Father! Thy goodness and truth are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, wider than the earth; all places are to Thee the same, and in thy sight all times are alike. Thou art above all places and all times, and yet dost penetrate and fill all things. Thou art nearer to me than I am to myself; thou anticipatest me with thy grace, and embracest me with thy mercy, which, through my blindness and misery, I could neither know nor hope for. Grant, that by thy Holy Spirit, I may seriously lay these things to heart, and for the future, look up to thee as my merciful Father, who knowest all things, and art present at all times, and in all places, that I may no more presume to judge of Thee by any natural blindness, and no more persuade myself that Thou art to be awakened, or prevailed upon by my crying; that thou needest any long discourses of mine, or requirest any certain time for prayer. But give me grace to consider, that the true worshipper may have access to Thee at all times, and in all places, and that thy goodness is always and everywhere present with us; but that no man can enjoy it, or taste of thy sweetness, unless he be first awakened and encouraged by Thee to engage in devout prayer. That I may worthily and effectually perform this, give me thy Holy Spirit, who may work in me to will and to do according to thy good pleasure. Amen.284
The Considerations Stated Above, Not Only Dispose The Heart To True Prayer, But Also Furnish Various Useful Lessons.
It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.—Isa. 65:24.
1. The first lesson which we learn is, that God has not commanded us to pray for his own sake, for he knoweth all things; but that we, being excited by these means, may be led to understand that he does know all things. God has so tender a concern for us, that he seems not to know anything, till we reflect within ourselves, that he does indeed know it. Hence it comes to pass, that when men do not diligently pray, they seem to think that God does not know. And, on the contrary, when we exercise ourselves in prayer, we soon learn that God knoweth all our necessities, and hath numbered the very hairs of our heads before we were born. These are thoughts that cannot enter into the hearts of those who despise the duty of prayer.
2. Secondly. We need not apply to God, as we do to one another, with a long account of our wants: all that we have to do is, daily to exercise ourselves in prayer, so that the inner man may enter into the kingdom of God.
3. Thirdly. God is (as Dr. Tauler says) a thousand times more ready to give, than we are to receive, through prayer and hope.
4. Fourthly. God stands in no need of any external ceremonies of ours, our watchings, fastings, or cryings, to awaken him, who “neither slumbereth nor sleepeth.” Ps. 121:4. He not only foreknows our desires and prayers, but even our existence (Jer. 1:5); yet, on the other hand, the dulness and stupidity of men may by these exercises be excited, encouraged, and instructed to consider and understand the tender mercies of God towards all mankind.
5. Fifthly. Hence we discover the goodness, truth, and loving-kindness of God towards all men; and, on the other hand, the blindness and unbelief, the stupidity and unspeakable dulness of mankind towards God, who have so great a contempt of the mercies of God, and are so backward in their prayers and endeavors to obtain his grace.
6. Sixthly. God is righteous in all his works; and so far from his being the author of our miseries, blindness, and ignorance, we are indeed the cause of it ourselves; whilst, in contempt of his commands, we neglect to implore his mercies, and beg the blessings which he has promised to bestow on all that ask him. This is sufficient to vindicate the justice and impartiality of God in all his dealings towards us, and to lay the blame of all our sins and punishments upon ourselves, who are indeed the authors of both.
7. Seventhly. God is not confined to any certain time and place, but desires to be worshipped at all times, and in all places, in spirit and in truth.
8. These observations will rectify many mistakes, and open a man's eyes to discover things, of which he would otherwise have been ignorant. But though it is a shameful thing for a Christian to be ignorant of these matters, yet it is much more so to know, and not to reduce them to practice.
Awaken us, O God, that we may watch; draw us to Thee, and we will run in the true way, which conducts to the kingdom of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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