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On The Benefits And Power Of Prayer, And On Its True Ground Or Foundation.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.—Heb. 4:16.
“Hear my voice according to thy lovingkindness, O Lord” (Ps. 119:149), saith David; pointing out thereby the foundation of our prayer, namely, the grace of God; and this is conveyed to us through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “full of grace and truth,” and of whose fulness we ought all to receive. John 1:14, 16. For this reason he is also called the Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16; Rom. 3:25), upon which the eye of faith in prayer ought continually to be fixed, according to the example of the children of Israel, who always offered up their prayers with their faces towards the mercy-seat. For in his name, and for his sake alone it is, that God has promised to hear our prayers (John 16:23); and thus even the holy prophets of old prayed: “O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, for the Lord's sake.” Dan. 9:17.
2. I. First, the benefit of our prayers is well expressed by holy David in the latter part of the above-mentioned verse (Ps. 119:149): “Quicken me according to thy judgments.” For life proceeds from the grace of God. But what is our life without divine grace? Therefore says the holy Psalmist, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life.” Ps. 63:4. This quickening virtue is also derived to us through Christ Jesus. It was for this purpose that he took our flesh and blood, that by the quickening virtue of his body, we also might be quickened. And this we receive only by the means of prayer, which draws down a quickening power into our souls, to heal all our spiritual infirmities; like that which flowed from His body whilst on earth, to cure and heal the diseases and distempers of all those that touched him. Luke 6:19. Thus when we are afflicted and sorrowful, and can lay hold on Jesus Christ by the prayer of faith, we immediately find, as it were, new life and vigor flowing into our souls from that inexhaustible fountain of divine grace. This may be attested by the experience of many languishing and afflicted souls.
3. Whence we may learn: 1. That an afflicted soul cannot be refreshed 288 or comforted without prayer; as appears from the example of Christ, in the history of his passion (Matt. 26:39), who has himself also for that reason given us a form of prayer. Matt. 6:9, etc. And we have, indeed, great reason to be thankful to God, who has given us prayer to be as an universal remedy to all afflicted souls. 2. Where the prophet says, “Hear me according to thy lovingkindness” (Ps. 119:149), he shows us that prayer is the proper means of obtaining mercy and the graces of the Holy Spirit, such as the increase of faith, charity, patience, the knowledge of God, devotion, inward peace and joy. These are such gifts, such graces, such heavenly treasures, as are better than heaven and earth. Moreover, hence we obtain strength and victory against the world, the devil, and all our enemies; which spiritual strength consists only in prayer. That was the power by which David and all the saints conquered their enemies, as appears by the example of Moses, Elias, Jehoshaphat, and others, who always prevailed by faith and prayer. 3. Every man has need of prayer in respect to his office, condition, and employment, in which no man can act either prudently or successfully without prayer. We are, indeed, in this miserable world, like people sailing amidst rocks and quicksands, and exposed to innumerable dangers; for which reason we ought the more fervently to implore the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit.
4. II. Therefore, holy David adds, “They draw nigh that follow after mischief; they are far from thy law.” Ps. 119:150. And this is a proper season for prayer. For what the devil cannot do himself, he leaves to be accomplished by wicked men, who are as so many executioners of his malice, and who make it their continual employment to disturb and injure good men. From these no man is secure; but here the most effectual help is prayer. Thus, “I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” Ps. 18:2. “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee; let me not be ashamed; let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed; but let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.” Ps. 25:1-3.
5. But it ought to be carefully noticed that David says, his enemies are far from the law of God. These are all they that persecute others, forsaking the word of God, and being far from his fear; whence it follows, that as they are far from God, so God is far from them, and nothing but destruction hangs over their heads. On the other hand, the faithful, pious, and devout soul approaches God through prayer.
6. When, therefore, we are daily lifting up our hearts to God, and learn to converse with him, we approach continually nearer and nearer to him, and by degrees, forgetting this lower world, from earthly we become heavenly and spiritual; like Moses, whose face, when he had conversed forty days and forty nights with God, shone like the sun. Exod. 34:29. For as we easily learn the customs and manners of those with whom we converse, and are not so well pleased with any company as that to which we are accustomed, so by continual and daily prayer, we grow daily more and more acquainted with the manners and language of our heavenly country, and are more and more inflamed with divine 289 love. Moreover, prayer is a preservative against sins, temptations, and all kinds of evils; according to that saying of Christ: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” Matt. 26:41. But if even then anything befall us, we know that it is by the immediate permission of God; and from it with all due submission and resignation to his will, we may lawfully pray to be delivered.
7. III. David proceeds: “Thou art near, O Lord: and all thy commandments are truth.” Ps. 119:151. Here he assures us, that the second and the third foundation of prayer, are the presence and the truth of God.
8. How great soever our calamities may be, there is no one consideration that gives us so much ease and comfort, as that of the presence of God with us: according to that Scripture: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” Isa. 41:10. In consideration of his presence, we may with assurance call upon him in all places, and upon all occasions. For though our Saviour tells us, “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6): yet we are to consider, that these words were spoken against the hypocrites of those times, who, from a vain ostentation, used to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the street; but they are by no means binding on any man to pray in any one particular place.
9. We read of the patriarch Isaac (Gen. 24:63), that he went out at the eventide into the field to meditate. And it is plain (Luke 6:12), that our blessed Lord went alone “into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” We may, therefore, in all places, and at any time, pray to God; but more especially when we are alone, and not disturbed by the conversation of others. Let us continually stir ourselves up to this divine conversation with God, remembering the words of the Psalmist, “Thou art near, O Lord.” Now if this be true, as it most certainly is, we cannot do better than to be often conversing with him; according to that Scripture, “Call ye upon him while he is near.” Isa. 55:6. “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him.” Ps. 145:18.
10. IV. So, too, the veracity of God is a strong obligation upon us to pray, because we know, 1. That he has commanded it; “Call upon me.” Ps. 50:15. 2. That he has promised to hear us; “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isa. 65:24. 3. That he has not only promised to hear, but has actually heard the prayers of the faithful. This is plain, from the examples of Moses, David, Samuel, Joshua, and of Cornelius in the Acts, whose “prayers and alms ascended up for a memorial before God.” Acts 10:4.
11. Many other examples are to be found in the Holy Scriptures. And that thou mayest not think that, because thou art not such a one as Moses, David, Elias, or Joshua, therefore thou shalt not be heard as easily as they were, thou art to consider that they all were men “subject to like passions as we are.” James 5:17.
12. Who was Cornelius? Acts, ch. 10. He was a heathen. Who was Manasseh? 2 Chron. 33:12, 13. A most grievous sinner. Yet God has promised that he will hear the miserable. 290 Ps. 34:7. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” And “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” Ps. 102:17. “The expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.” Ps. 9:18. The cases just mentioned illustrate these promises.
13. V. But as the Psalmist adds: “Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old, that thou hast founded them for ever” (Ps. 119:152), this consideration exceedingly encourages our prayers and strengthens our faith, and is another immovable foundation of prayer. The word and promise of God are built upon an eternal foundation, being nothing else but God himself and his Son Jesus Christ; in him the Word of God, and the salvation of man were founded “before the foundation of the world.” Eph. 1:4. Whatsoever is built upon an eternal basis, no temporal thing can overturn. It is this that St. Paul had in his eye when he tells us that neither height, nor depth, nor things present, nor things to come, nor angels, nor principalities shall be able to separate us from the love of God. Rom. 8:38.
14. And what greater consolation can we wish? Or who can refrain from rejoicing, when he considers that our faith and prayer are founded upon that which is eternal? Hence it is said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa. 28:16); or, as St. Peter explains it, “shall not be confounded” (1 Peter 2:6): and St. Paul, “Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11); and again, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” 2 Tim. 2:19.
15. Against this foundation even the gates of hell shall not prevail. Matt. 16:18. This, in short, is the foundation of our salvation, our faith and blessedness, which is more secure than heaven and earth.
16. For prayer is a conversation with God—a key of heaven—a free access to God—a familiarity with God—an opener of his mysteries—a spiritual banquet—a heavenly enjoyment—a nurse of virtues—a conqueror of vices—a medicine of the soul—a remedy against infirmities—an antidote against sin—a pillar of the world—a seed of blessing—an increase of faith—a support of hope—a parent of charity—a path of righteousness—a preserver of constancy—an ornament of holiness—a fire of devotion—a light of knowledge—a repository of wisdom—the strength of the soul—a remedy against faint-heartedness—a foundation of peace—the joy of the heart—a jubilee of the soul—a faithful companion in this earthly pilgrimage—the shield of a Christian soldier—a rule of humility—a forerunner of honor—a nurse of patience—a guardian of obedience—a fountain of quietness—the conquest of devils—a comfort of the sorrowful—a triumph of the just—the joy of the saints—a helper of the oppressed—the ease of the afflicted—the rest of the weary—an ornament of the conscience—an advancement of graces—an acceptable sacrifice—an encourager of mutual goodwill—the refreshment of this miserable life—the sweetening of death—a foretaste of the heavenly life—the earnest desire of everlasting salvation.
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