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MOTIVES TO A COMPLIANCE WITH WHAT IS PROPOSED IN THE MEMORIAL.
I now proceed to the second thing intended in this Discourse, viz. to offer to consideration some things, which may tend to induce the people of God to comply with the proposal and request, made to them in the Memorial.
The latter-day glory not yet accomplished.
It is evident from the Scripture, that there is yet remaining a great advancement of the interest of religion 285and the kingdom of Christ in this world, by an abundant outpouring of the Spirit of God, far greater and more extensive than ever yet has been. It is certain, that many things, which are spoken concerning a glorious time of the church’s enlargement and prosperity in the latter days, have never yet been fulfilled. There has never yet been any propagation and prevalence of religion, in any wise, of that extent and universality which the prophecies represent. It is often foretold and signified, in a great variety of strong expressions, that there should a time come, when all nations, throughout the whole habitable world, should embrace the true religion, and be brought into the church of God. It was often promised to the patriarchs, that “in their seed all the nations, or (as it is sometimes expressed) all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 318318 See Gen. xii. 3. xiii. 18. xxii. 18. xxvi. 4. and xxviii. 14. Agreeably to this, it is said of the Messiah, Psal. lxxii. 11.“That all nations shall serve him;” and in ver. 17. “Men shall be blessed in him, and all nations shall call him blessed.” And in Isa. ii. 2. it is said, that “all nations shall flow unto the mountain of the house of the Lord.” And Jer. iii. 17. “That all nations shall be gathered unto the name of the Lord to Jerusalem, and shall walk no more after the imagination of their evil heart.” “That all flesh shall come and worship before the Lord,”.Isa. lxvi. 23.”. “And that all flesh should see the glory of God together,” Isa. xl. 5. “And that all flesh should come to him that hears prayer,” Psal. lxv. 2. Christ compares the kingdom of heaven in this world “to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened;” Matt. xiii. 33.
It is natural and reasonable to suppose, that the whole world should finally be given to Christ, as one whose right it is to reign, as the proper heir of him who is originally the King of all nations, and the possessor of heaven and earth. And the Scripture teaches us, that God the Father hath constituted his Son, as God-man, in his kingdom of grace, or mediatorial kingdom, to be the heir of the world, that he might in this kingdom have “the heathen for his inheritance, and the utmost ends of the earth for his possession.” Heb. i. 2. and ii. 8. Psal. ii. 6, 7, 8. Thus Abraham is said to be the heir of the world, not in himself, but in his seed, which is Christ, Rom. iv. 13. And how was this to be fulfilled to Abraham, but by God’s fulfilling that great promise, that “in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed?” For that promise is what the apostle is speaking of: which shows, that God has appointed Christ to be the heir of the world in his kingdom of grace, and to possess and reign over all nations, through the propagation of his gospel, and the power of his Spirit communicating the blessings of it. God hath appointed him to this universal dominion by a most solemn oath; Isa. xlv. 23. “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.” (Compared with Phil. ii. 10, 11.) Though the solemn oath of God the Father is to be understood in so comprehensive a sense, as to extend to what shall be accomplished at the day of judgment, yet it is evident by the foregoing and following verses, that the thing most directly intended, is what shall be fulfilled by spreading the gospel of his salvation, and the power of the Spirit of grace, bringing “all the ends of the earth to look to him that they may be saved,” and come to him for “righteousness and strength, that in him they might be justified, and might glory.”
God has suffered many earthly princes to extend their conquests over a great part of the face of the earth, and to possess a dominion of vast extent, and one monarchy to conquer and succeed another, the latter being still the greater; it is reasonable to suppose, that a much greater glory in this respect should be reserved for Christ, God’s own Son and rightful heir, who has purchased the dominion by so great and hard a service: it is reasonable to suppose, that his dominion should be far the largest, and his conquests vastly the greatest and most extensive. And thus the Scriptures represent the matter, in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, and the prophet’s interpretation, Daniel ii. There are four great monarchies of the earth, one succeeding another, are represented by the great image of gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay; but at last a stone, cut out of the mountain without hands, smites the image upon his feet, which breaks the iron, clay, brass, silver and gold in pieces, that all become as the chaff of the summer threshing floors, and the wind carries them away, that no place is found for them; but the stone waxes great, becomes a great mountain, and fills the whole earth: signifying the kingdom which the Lord God of heaven should set up in the world, last of all, which should break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms. Surely this representation leads us to suppose, that this last kingdom shall be of much greater extent man any of the preceding.
The like representation is made in the 7th chapter of Daniel;. there the four monarchies are represented by four great beasts that arose successively, one conquering and subduing another; the fourth and last of these is said to be dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, and to have great iron teeth, and to devour and break in pieces, and stamp the residue with his feet; yea, it is said, ver. 23. that the kingdom represented by this beast shall devour the whole earth: but last of all, one like the Son of man appears, coming to the Ancient of days, and being brought near before him, and receiving of him a dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him. This last circumstance, of the vast extent and universality of his dominion, is manifestly spoken of as one thing greatly distinguishing this holy kingdom from all the preceding monarchies. Although of one of the former it was said, that it should devour the whole earth, yet we are naturally led, both by the much greater emphasis and strength of the expressions, as well as by the whole connexion and tenor of the prophecy, to understand the universality here expressed in a much more extensive and absolute sense. And the terms used in the interpretation of this vision are such, that scarcely any can be devised more strong, to signify an absolute universality of dominion over the inhabitants of the face of the earth; ver. 27. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the most high God.” Agreeably to this, the gospel is represented as “preached unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and tongue, and kindred, and people,” Rev. xiv. 6.
The universal prevalence of true religion in the latter days, is sometimes expressed by its reaching to the “utmost ends of the earth,” (Psal. ii. 8.) “To all the ends of the earth, and of the world, (Psal. xxii. 27. Psal. lxvii. 7. Psal. xcviii. 3. Isa. xlv. 22.) “All the ends of the earth, with those that are far off upon the sea,” (Psal. lxv. 5.) “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same,” (Psal. cxiii. 3. Mal. i. 11.) “The outgoing of the morning and of the evening,” (Psal. lxv. 8.) It seems that all the most strong expressions, that were in use among the Jews to signify the habitable world in its utmost extent, are used to signify the extent of the church of God in the latter days. And in many places, a variety of these expressions is used, and there is an accumulation of them, expressed with great force.
It would be unreasonable to say, these are only bold figures, used after the manner of the eastern nations, to express the great extent of the Christian church, at and after the days of Constantine. To say so, would be in effect to say, that it would have been impossible for God, if he had desired it, plainly to have foretold any thing that should absolutely have extended to all nations of the earth. I question whether it be possible to find out a more strong expression, to signify an absolute universality of the knowledge of the true religion through the habitable world, than that in Isa. xi. 9. “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Which is as much as to say, as there is no place in the vast ocean where there is not water, so there shall be no part of the world of mankind where there is not the knowledge of the Lord; as there is no part of the wide bed or cavity possessed by the sea, but what is covered with water, so there shall be no part of the habitable world that shall not be covered by the light of the gospel, and possessed by the 286true religion. Waters are often in prophecy put for nations and multitudes of people. So the waters of the main ocean seem sometimes to be put for the inhabitants of the earth in general; as in Ezekiel’s vision of the waters of the sanctuary, (Ezek. xlvii.) which flowed from the sanctuary, and ran east, till they came to the ocean, and were at first a small stream, but continually increased till they became a great river; and when they came to the sea, the water even of the vast ocean was healed, (ver. 8.) representing the conversion of the world to the true religion in the latter days.
It seems evident, that the time will come, when there will not be one nation remaining in the world, which shall not embrace the true religion, in that God has expressly revealed, that no one such nation shall be left standing on the earth; Isa. lx. 12. “the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” God has declared that heathen idolatry and all the worship of false gods shall be wholly abolished, in the most universal manner, so that it shall be continued in no place under the heavens, or upon the face of the earth; Jer. x. 11. “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.” Ver. 15. “They are vanity, and the work of errors, in the time of their visitation they shall perish.” This must be understood as what shall be brought to pass while this earth and these heaven remain, i. e. before the end of the world. Agreeable to this is Isa. liv. 1, 2. “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitation: spare not, lengthen thy cords, strengthen thy stakes.” Ver. 5. “For thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.”
The prophecies of the New Testament do no less evidently show, that a time will come when the gospel shall universally prevail, and the kingdom of Christ be extended over the whole habitable earth, in the most proper sense. Christ says, (John xii. 32.) “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” It is fit, that when the Son of God becomes man, he should have dominion over all mankind. It is fit, that since he became an inhabitant of the earth, and shed his blood on the earth, he should possess the whole earth. It is fit, seeing here he became a servant, and was subject to men, and was arraigned before them, and judged, condemned, and executed by them, and suffered ignominy and death in a most public manner, before Jews and Gentiles being lifted up to view on the cross upon a hill, near that populous city Jerusalem, at a most public time, when there were many hundred thousand spectators, from all parts that should be rewarded with an universal dominion over mankind; and it is here declared he shall be.
The apostle, in the Rom. xi. 11th of Romans, teaches us to look on that great outpouring of the Spirit, and ingathering of souls into Christ’s kingdom, in those days, first of the Jews and then of the Gentiles, to be but as the first-fruits of the intended harvest, both with regard to Jews and Gentiles, as a sign that all should in due time be gathered in; ver. 16. “For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” And in that context, the apostle speaks of the fulness of both Jews and Gentiles, as what shall hereafter be brought in, distinctly from the ingathering from among both, in those primitive ages of Christianity. In ver. 12. we read of the fulness of the Jews, and in the 25th, of the fulness of the Gentiles. And in ver. 30-32. the apostle teaches us to look upon that infidelity and darkness, which first prevailed over all Gentile nations, before Christ came, and afterwards over the Jews, as what was wisely permitted for the manifestation of the glory of God’s mercy, in due time, on the whole world, constituted of Jews and Gentiles. “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” These things plainly show, that the time is coming when the whole world of mankind shall be brought into the church of Christ; the fulness of both, the whole lump, all the nation of the Jews, and all the world of Gentiles.
In the last great conflict between the church of Christ and her enemies, before the commencement of the glorious time of the church’s peace and rest, the kings of the earth, and the WHOLE WORLD, are represented as gathered together, Rev. xvi. 14. And then the seventh angel pours out his vial into the air, which limits the kingdom of Satan, as god of this world; and that kingdom is represented as utterly overthrown, ver. 17,. &c. In another description of that great battle, (chap. xix.) Christ is represented as riding forth, having on his head many crowns, and on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Which we may well suppose signifies, that he is now going to that conquest, whereby he shall set up a kingdom, in which he shall be King of kings, in a far more extensive manner than either Babylonish, Persian, Grecian, or Roman monarchs were. And in ver. 17., and following, an angel appears standing in the sun, that overlooks the whole world, calling on Rev. xix. 17, 18. “all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, to come and eat the flesh of kings,” &c. And in consequence of the great victory Christ gains at that time, “an angel comes down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand, and lays hold on the devil, and binds him, and casts him into the bottomless pit, and shuts him up, and sets a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more. 319319 Rev. xx. 1-3. ” Satan being dispossessed of that highest monarchy on earth, the Roman empire, and cast out in the time of Constantine is represented (chap. xii.) by his being cast down from heaven to the. earth, but now there is something far beyond that; he is cast out of the earth, and is shut up in hell, and confined to that alone, so that he has no place left him in this world of mankind, high or low.
Now will any be so unreasonable as to say, that all these things do not signify more than that one third part of the world should be brought into the church of Christ; beyond which it cannot be pretended that the Christian religion has ever vet reached, in its greatest extent? Those countries which belonged to the Roman empire, that were brought to the profession of Christianity after the reign of Constantine, are but a small part of what the habitable world now is. As to extent of ground, they altogether bear, I suppose, no greater proportion to it, than the land of Canaan did to the Roman empire. And our Redeemer in his kingdom of grace has hitherto possessed but a little part of the world, in its most flourishing state, since arts are arisen to their greatest height; and a very great part of the world is but lately discovered, and much remains undiscovered to this day. These things make it very evident, that the main fulfilment of those prophecies, that speak of the glorious advancement of Christ’s kingdom on earth, is still to come.
And as there has been nothing as yet, with regard to the flourishing of religion, and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, of such extent as to answer the prophecies, so neither has there been any thing of that duration that is foretold. The prophecies speak of Jerusalem being made the joy of the whole earth, and also the Joy of many generations. (Psal. xlviii. 2. Isa. lx. 15. That “God’s people should long enjoy the work of their hands,” (Isa. lxv. 22.) That they should “reign with Christ a thousand years,” (Rev. xx.) by which we must at least understand a very long time. But it would be endless to mention all the places, which signify that the time of the church’s great peace and prosperity should be of long continuance. Almost all the prophecies, that speak of her latter-day glory, imply it; and it is implied in very many of them, that when once this day of the church’s advancement and peace is begun, it shall never end till the world ends; or, at least, that there shall be no more a return of her troubles and adversity for any considerable continuance. Then “the days of her mourning shall be ended;” her tribulations ” be as the waters of Noah, unto God, that as he has sworn that the waters of Noah should no more pass over the earth, so he will swear that he will no more be wroth with his people, or rebuke them.” It is implied that “God’s people should no more walk after the imagination of their evil hearts; that God would hide himself no more from the house of Israel; because he has poured out his Spirit upon them; that their sun should no more go down, nor 287the moon withdraw itself; that the light should not be clear and dark,” (i. e. there should be no more an interchange of light and darkness, as used to be,) but that it should be all one continued day; not day and night (for so the words are in the original in Zech. xiv. 7.) alternately, “but it shall come to pass, that at evening time (i. e. at the time that night and darkness used to be) it shall be light; and that the nations should beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and that nation should not lift up sword against nation, nor learn war any more; but that there should be abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.”
But the church of Christ has never yet enjoyed a state of peace and prosperity for any long time; on the contrary, the time for her rest, and of the flourishing state of religion, have ever been very short. Hitherto the church may say, (as in Isa. lxiii. 17, 18.) “Return, for thy servants’ sake, the tribes of thine inheritance; the people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while.” The quietness that the church of God enjoyed after the beginning of Constantine’s reign, was very short. The peace the empire enjoyed, in freedom from war, was not more than twenty years; no longer nor greater than it had enjoyed under some of the heathen emperors. After this the empire was rent in pieces by intestine wars, and wasted almost every where by the invasions and incursions of barbarous nations; and the Christian world, soon after, was all in contention and confusion, by heresies and divisions in matters of religion. And the church of Christ has never as yet been, for any long time, free from persecution; especially when truth has prevailed, and true religion flourished. It is manifest, that hitherto the people of God have been kept under, and Zion has been in a low afflicted state, and her enemies have had the chief sway.
Another thing which makes it exceedingly manifest, that the day of the church’s greatest advancement on earth, which is foretold in Scripture, has never yet come, is, that it is so plainly and expressly revealed, this day shall succeed the last of the four monarchies, even the Roman, in its last state, wherein it is divided into ten kingdoms, and after the destruction of antichrist, signified by the little horn, whose reign is contemporary with the reign of the ten kings. These things are very plain in the 2d and 7th chapters of Daniel,. and also in the Revelation of St. John. And it is also plain by the 9th chapter of Romans. that it shall be after the national conversion of the Jews, which shall be as life from the dead to the Gentiles, and the fulness of both Jews and Gentiles shall be come in, all the nation of the Jews, and all other nations, shall obtain mercy, and there shall be that general ingathering of the harvest of the whole earth, of which all that had been converted before, either of Jews or Gentiles, were but the first fruits. Thus it is meet, that the last kingdom which shall take place on earth, should be the kingdom of God’s own Son and heir, whose right it is to rule and reign; and that whatever revolutions and confusions there may be in the world, for a long time, the cause of truth, the righteous cause, shall finally prevail, and God’s holy people should at last inherit the earth, and reign on earth; and that the world should continue in tumults and great revolutions, following one another, from age to age, the world being as it were in travail, till truth and holiness are brought forth. It is meet, that all things should be shaken, till that comes which is true and right, and agreeable to the mind of God, which cannot be shaken; and that the wisdom of the Ruler of the world should be manifested in bringing all things ultimately to so good an issue. The world is made for the Son of God; his kingdom is the end of all changes, that come to pass in the state of the world. All are only to prepare the way for this; it is fit, therefore, that the last kingdom on earth should be his. It is wisely and mercifully ordered of God, that it should be so, on this account, as well as many others, viz. That the church of God, under all preceding changes, should have this consideration to encourage her, and maintain her hope, and animate her faith and prayers, from generation to generation, that God has promised, her cause should finally be maintained and prevail in the world.
The latter-day glory unspeakably great,
The future promised advancement of the kingdom of Christ is an event unspeakably happy and glorious. The Scriptures speak of it as a time wherein God and his Son Jesus Christ will be most eminently glorified on earth; a time, wherein God, who till then had dwelt between the cherubims and concealed himself in the holy of holies, in the secret of his tabernacle, behind the veil, in the thick darkness should openly shine forth, and all flesh should see his glory, and God’s people in general have as great a privilege as the High Priest alone had once a year, or as Moses had in the mount. A time this, wherein the “temple of God in heaven should be opened, and there should be seen the ark of his testament;” (Rev. xi. 19.) a time, wherein both God will be greatly glorified, and his saints made unspeakably happy in the view of his glory; a time, wherein God’s people should not only once see the light of God’s glory, as Moses, or see it once a year with the high priest, but should dwell and walk continually in it, and it should be their constant daily light, instead of the light of the sun; (Isa. ii. 5. Psal. lxxxix. 15. Isa. lx. 19.) which light should be so much more glorious than the light of the sun or moon, that “the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts should reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, before his ancients gloriously;” (Isa. xxiv. 23.)
It is represented as a time of vast increase of knowledge and understanding, especially in divine things; a time wherein God would “destroy the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil spread over all nations;” (Isa. xxv. 7.) wherein “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold,” (Isa. xxx. 26.) “And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the heart of the rash shall understand knowledge,” (Isa. xxxii. 3, 4.) “And they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, because they shall all know him from the least to the greatest, (Jer. xxxi. 34.) It is declared to be a time of general holiness, (Isa. lx. 30.) 320320 Isa. lx. 21. “Thy people shall be all righteous.” A time of prevailing eminent holiness, when little children shall, in spiritual attainments, be as though they were a hundred years old, (Isa. lxv. 20.) wherein “he that is feeble among God’s people shall be as David,” (Zech. xii. 8.) A time wherein holiness should be as it were inscribed on every thing, on all men’s common business and employments, and the common utensils of life, all shall be dedicated to God, and improved to holy purposes. (Isa. xxiii. 18.) “Her merchandise and hire shall be holiness to the Lord.” (Zech. xiv. 20, 21.) “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar; yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.”
A time shall come wherein religion and true Christianity shall in every respect be uppermost in the world; wherein God will cause his church to “arise and shake herself from the dust, and put on her beautiful garments, and sit down on a throne; and the poor shall be raised from the dust, and the beggar from the dunghill, and shall be set among princes, and made to inherit the throne of God’s glory;” a time wherein vital piety shall take possession of thrones and palaces, and those that are in most exalted stations shall be eminent in holiness, (Isa. xlix. 23.) “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.”(Chap. lx. 16.) “Thou shalt suck the breasts of kings.” (Isa. xiv. 12.) “The daughter of Tyre shall lie there with a gift, the rich among the people shall entreat thy favour.” A time of wonderful union, and the most universal peace, love, and sweet harmony; wherein the nations shall “beat their swords into plow-shares,” &c. and God will ” cause wars to cease to the ends of the earth, and break the bow, and cut the spear in sunder, and burn the chariot in the fire; and the mountains shall bring forth peace to God’s people, and the little hills by righteousness; wherein the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, &c. and wherein God’s people shall dwell in a peaceable 288habitation, and in sure dwellings, and quiet resting places;” (Isa. xxxii. 17, 18. and Isa. xxxiii. 20, 21.)
A time shall come wherein all heresies and false doctrine shall be exploded, and the church of God shall not be rent with a variety of jarring opinions, (Zech. xiv. 9.) “The Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one.” All superstitious ways of worship shall be abolished, and all agree in worshipping God in his own appointed way, and agreeably to the purity of his institutions; (Jer. xxxii. 39.) “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them and their children after them.” A time wherein the whole earth shall be united as one holy city, one heavenly family, men of all nations shall as it were dwell together, and sweetly correspond one with another, as brethren and children of the same father; as the prophecies often speak of God’s people at that time as the children of God, and brethren one to another, all “appointing over them one head,” gathered to one “house of God, to worship the King, the Lord of hosts.”
A time approaches wherein this whole great society shall appear in glorious beauty, in genuine amiable Christianity and excellent order, as “a city compact together, the perfection of beauty, an eternal excellency,” shining with a reflection of the glory of Jehovah risen upon it, which shall be attractive and ravishing to all kings and nations, and it shall appear “as a bride adorned for her husband.” A time of great temporal prosperity; of great health; (Isa. xxxiii. 24.) “The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick” of long life; (Isa. Iv. 22.) “As the days of a tree, are the days of my people.” A time wherein the earth shall be abundantly fruitful; (Psal. lxvii. Isa. vi. 23, 24. Amos ix. 16. and many other places.) A time wherein the world shall be delivered from that multitude of sore calamities which before had prevailed, (Ezek. xlvii. 20.) and there shall be an universal blessing of God upon mankind, in soul and body, and in all their concerns, and all manner of tokens of God’s presence and favour, and “God shall rejoice over them, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride, and the mountains shall as it were drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk;” (Joel iii. 18.)
A time of great and universal joy, we are taught to expect, will take place through all the earth, when “from the utmost ends of the earth shall be heard songs, even glory to the righteous,” and God’s people “shall with joy draw water out of the wells of salvation.” God shall “prepare in his holy mountain a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined,” which feast is represented, Rev. xix. as the. marriage supper of the Lamb. Yea, the Scriptures represent it not only as a time of universal joy on earth, but extraordinary joy in heaven, among the angels and saints, the holy apostles and prophets there; (Rev. xviii. 20. and Rev. xix. 1-9.) Yea, the Scriptures represent it as a time of extraordinary rejoicing with Christ himself, the glorious head, in whom all things in heaven and earth shall then be gathered together in one; (Zech. iii. 17.) “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” And the very fields, trees, and mountains shall then as it were rejoice, and break forth into singing; (Isa. Iv. 12.) “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isa. xliv. 23.) “Sing, O heavens, for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains; O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.”
Such being the state of things in this future promised glorious day of the church’s prosperity, surely it is worth praying for. Nor is there any one thing whatsoever, if we viewed things aright, for which a regard to the glory of God, a concern for the kingdom and honour of our Redeemer, a love to his people, pity to perishing sinners love to our fellow-creatures in general, compassion to mankind under their various and sore calamities and miseries, a desire of their temporal and spiritual prosperity, love to our country, our neighbours, and friends, yea, and to our own souls would dispose us to be so much in prayer, as for the dawning of this happy day, and the accomplishment of this glorious event.
How much Christ prayed and laboured and suffered, in order to the glory and happiness of that day.
the sum of the blessings Christ sought, by what he did and suffered in the work of redemption, was the Holy Spirit. Thus is the affair of our redemption constituted; the Father provides and gives the Redeemer, and the price of redemption is offered to him, and he grants the benefit purchased; the Son is the Redeemer who gives the price, and also is the price offered; and the Holy Spirit is the grand blessing obtained by the price offered, and bestowed on the redeemed. The Holy Spirit, in his indwelling presence, his influences and fruits, is the sum of all grace, holiness, comfort, and joy; or, in one word, of all the spiritual good Christ purchased for men in this world: and is also the sum of all perfection, glory, and eternal joy, that he purchased for them in another world. The Holy Spirit is the subject matter of the promises, both of the eternal covenant of redemption, and also of the covenant of grace. This is the grand subject of the promises of the Old Testament, so often recorded in the prophecies of Messiah’s kingdom; and the chief subject of the promises of the New Testament; and particularly of the covenant of grace delivered by Jesus Christ to his disciples, as his last will and testament, in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John; the grand legacy that he bequeathed to them, in his last and dying discourse with them. Therefore the Holy Spirit is so often called the Spirit of promise, and emphatically, the promise, the promise of the Father, &c. 321321 Luke xxiv. 49. Acts i. 4. and Acts. ii. 33, 39.Gal. iii. 14. Eph. i. 13. and Eph. iii. 6.
This being the great blessing Christ purchased by his labours and sufferings on earth, it was that which he received of the Father when he ascended into heaven, and entered into the holy of holies with his own blood, that he might communicate it to those whom he had redeemed. John xvi. 7. “It is expedient for you, that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” Acts ii. 33. “Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” This is the sum of those gifts, which Christ received for men, even for the rebellious, at his ascension; and of the benefits Christ obtains for men by his intercession; John xiv. 16, 17. “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” Herein consists Christ’s communicative fulness, even in his being full of the Spirit; and so full of grace and truth, that we might of this fulness receive, and grace for grace. He is anointed with the Holy Ghost, and this is the ointment that goes down from the head to the members. “God gives the Spirit not by measure unto him, that every member might receive according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” This therefore was the great blessing he prayed for in that wonderful prayer which he uttered for his disciples and all his future church, the evening before he died, John xvii. The blessing he prayed for to the Father, in behalf of his disciples, was the same he had insisted on in his preceding discourse with them; and this, doubtless, was the blessing he prayed for, when, as our High Priest, he offered up strong crying and tears, with his blood, Heb. v. 6, 7. As for this he shed his blood, for this he also shed tears, and poured out prayers.
But of all the time we have been speaking of, this is the chief season for the bestowment of this blessing; the main season of success to all that Christ did and suffered in the work of our redemption. Before this, the Spirit of God is given but very sparingly, and but few are saved; but then it will be far otherwise; wickedness shall be rare 289then, as virtue and piety had been before: and undoubtedly, by far the greatest number of them that ever receive the benefits of Christ’s redemption, from the beginning of the world to the end of it, will receive it in that time. 322322 The number of the inhabitants of the earth will doubtless then be vastly multiplied; and the number of redeemed ones much more. If we should suppose that glorious day to last no more than literally a thousand years, and that at the beginning of that thousand years the world of mankind should be but just as numerous as it is now, and that the number should be doubled, during that time of great health and peace and the universal blessing of heaven, once only in a hundred years, the number at the end of a thousand years would be more than n thousand times greater than it is now; and if it should be doubled once in fifty years, (which probably the number of the inhabitants of New England has ordinarily been, in about half that time.) then at the end of the thousand years, there would be more than a million inhabitants on the face of the earth, where there is one now. And there is reason 1o think that through the greater part of this period, at least, the number of saints will, in their increase, bear a proportion to the increase of the number of inhabitants. And it must he considered, that if the number of mankind at the beginning of this period be no more than equal to the present number, yet we may doubtless conclude, that the number of true saints will be immensely greater; when instead of the few true and thorough Christians now in some few countries, every nation on the face of the whole earth shall be converted to Christianity, and every country shall be full of true Christians; so that the successive multiplication of true saints through the thousand years, will begin with that vast advantage, beyond the multiplication of mankind; where the latter is begun from units, the other doubtless will begin with. hundreds, if not thousands. How much greater then will be the number of true converts, that will be brought to a participation of the benefits of Christ’s redemption, during that period, than in all other times put together! I think, the foregoing things considered, we shall be very moderate in our conjectures, if we say, it is probable that there will be a hundred thousand times more, that will actually be redeemed to God by Christ’s blood, during that period of the church’s prosperity, than ever had been before, from the beginning of the world to that time.
This time is represented in Scripture, as the proper appointed season of Christ’s salvation; eminently the elect season, the accepted time, and day of salvation. 323323 Isa. xlix. 8. and so on to Isa. xlix. 23.ver. 23. and Isa. lix. 2. chap. lxi. 2. taken with the context in that and the preceding and following chapters. “The year of Christ’s redeemed,”. Isa. lxiii. 4. This period is spoken of as the proper time of the Redeemer’s dominion, and the reign of his redeeming love, in the 2d and 7th chapters of Daniel., and many other places; the proper time of his harvest, or ingathering of his fruits from this fallen world; the appointed day of his triumph over Satan, the great destroyer; and the appointed day of his marriage with his elect spouse, (Rev. xix. 7.) The time given to the Sun of righteousness to rule, as the day is the time God has appointed for the natural sun to bear rule. Therefore the bringing on of this time is called “Christ’s coming in his kingdom;” wherein “he will rend the heavens and come down, and the Sun of righteousness shall arise,” (Mal. iv. 2. and Isa. lx. 1.
The comparatively little saving good there is in the world, as the fruit of Christ’s redemption, before that time, is as it were granted by way of anticipation; as we anticipate something of the sun s light by reflection before the proper time of the sun’s rule; and as the first-fruits are gathered before the harvest. Then more especially will be the fulfilment of those great promises, made by God the Father to the Son, for his pouring out his soul unto death; (Isa. liii. 10-12.) then “shall he see his seed, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand;” then “shall he see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied, and shall justify many by his knowledge;” then “will God divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;” then shall Christ in an eminent manner obtain his chosen spouse, that “he loved and died for, that he might sanctify and cleanse her, with the washing of water, by the word, and present her to himself, a glorious church.” He will obtain “the joy that was set before him, for which he endured the cross, and despised the shame,” chiefly in the events and consequences of that day: that day, as was observed before, which is often represented as eminently the time of the “rejoicing of the bridegroom.” The foreknowledge and consideration of it was what supported him, and that in which his soul exulted, at a time when it had been troubled at the view of his approaching sufferings; as may be seen in John xii. 23, 24, 27, 31, 32.
Now therefore, if this is what Jesus Christ, our great Redeemer and the head of the church, did so much desire, and set his heart upon, from all eternity, and for which he did and suffered so much, offering up strong crying and team, and his precious blood, to obtain it; surely his disciples and members should also earnestly seek it, and be much in prayer for it.
The whole creation travails in pain.
the whole, creation is, as it were, earnestly waiting for that day, and constantly groaning and travailing in pain to bring forth the felicity and glory of it. For that day is above all other times, excepting the day of judgment, the day of the manifestation of the sons of God, and of their glorious liberty: and therefore, that elegant representation the apostle makes of the earnest expectation and travail of the creation, in Rom. viii. 19-22. is applicable to the glorious event of this day; ” the earnest, expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. for we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” The visible world has now for many ages been subject to sin, and made, as it were, a servant to it, through the abuse that man, who has the dominion over the creatures, puts the creatures to. Thus the sun is a sort of servant to all manner of wickedness, as its light, and other beneficial influences, are abused by men, and made subservient to their lusts and sinful purposes. So of the rain, the fruits of the earth, the brute animals, and all other parts of the visible creation; they all serve men’s corruption, and obey their sinful will. And God doth, in a sort, subject them to it; for he continues his influence and power to make them obedient, according to the same law of nature, whereby they yield to men’s command when used to good purposes.
It is by the immediate influence of God upon things according to those constant methods which we call the laws of nature, that they are ever obedient to man’s will, or that we can use them at all. This influence God continues in order to make them obedient to man’s will, though wicked. This is a sure sign, that the present state of things is not lasting: it is confusion; and God would not suffer it to be, but that he designs in a little time to put an end to it. Seeing it is to he but a little while, God chooses rather to subject the creature to man’s wickedness, than to disturb and interrupt the course of nature according to its stated laws: but it is, as it were, a force upon the creature; for the creature is abused in it, perverted to far meaner purposes, than those for which the author of its nature made and adapted it. The creature therefore is unwillingly subject; and but for a short time; and, as it were, hopes for an alteration. It is a bondage which the creature is subject to, from which it was partly delivered when Christ came, and when the gospel was promulgated in the world; and will be more fully delivered at the commencement of the glorious day we are speaking of, and perfectly at the day of judgment. This agrees with the context; for the apostle was speaking of the present suffering state of the church. The reason why the church in this world is in a suffering state, is, that the world is subject to the sin and corruption of mankind. By vanity and corruption in Scripture, is very commonly meant sin, or wickedness; as might be shown in very many places, would my intended brevity allow.
Though the creature is thus subject to vanity, yet does not it rest in this subjection, but is constantly acting and exerting itself, in order to that glorious liberty that God has appointed at the time we are speaking of, and, as it were, reaching forth towards it. All the changes brought to pass in the world, from age to age, are ordered by infinite wisdom, in one respect or other to prepare the way for that glorious issue of things, when truth and righteousness shall finally prevail, and he, whose right it is, shall take the kingdom. All the creatures, in all their operations and motions, continually tend to this. As in a clock, all the motions of the whole system of wheels and movements, tend to the striking of the hammer at the appointed time. All the revolutions and restless motions of the sun and other heavenly bodies, from day to day, from year to year, and from age to age, are continually tending thither; as 290all the many turnings of the winds of a chariot, in a journey, tend to the appointed journey’s end. The mighty struggles and conflicts of nations, those vast successive changes which are brought to pass in the kingdoms and empires of the world, from one age to another, are, as it were, travail-pangs of the creation, in order to bring forth this glorious event. And the Scriptures represent the last struggles and changes that shall immediately precede this event, as being the greatest of all; as the last pangs of a woman in travail are the most violent.
The creature thus earnestly expecting this glorious manifestation and liberty of the children of God, and travailing in pain in order to it, the Scriptures, by a like figure, very often show, that when this shall be accomplished, the whole inanimate creation shall greatly rejoice: “That the heavens shall sing, the earth be glad, the mountains break forth into singing, the hills be joyful together, the trees clap their hands, the lower parts of the earth shout, the sea roar and the fulness thereof, and the floods clap their hands.” 324324 See Isa. xliv. 23. Isa. xlix. 13. Psal. lxix. 34. 35.Psal. xcvi. 11, 12. and Psal. xcviii.7, 8.
All the intelligent elect creation, all God’s holy creatures in heaven and earth, are truly and properly waiting for, and earnestly expecting, that event. It is abundantly represented in Scripture as the spirit and character of all true saints, that they set their hearts upon, love, long, wait, and pray for the promised glory of that day; they are spoken of as those that “prefer Jerusalem to their chief joy,” (Ps. cxxxvii. 6.) “That take pleasure in the stones of Zion, and favour the dust thereof,” (Ps. cii. 13, 14.) “That wait for the consolation of Israel,” (Luke ii. 25. and ver. 38.) It is the language of the church of God, and the breathing of every true saint, (Ps. xiv. 7.) “O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” And Cant. ii. 17. “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe, or a young hart upon the mountains of Bethel.” And chap. viii. 14. “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe, or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.” Agreeable to this was the spirit of old Jacob, which he expressed when he was dying, exercising faith in the great promise made to him, and Isaac, and Abraham, that “in their seed all the families of the earth should be blessed,” Gen. xlix. 18. “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” The same is represented as the spirit of his true children, or the family of Jacob, Isa. viii. 17. “I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth himself from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.” “They that love Christ’s appearing,” is a name that the apostle gives to true Christians, 2 Tim. iv. 8.
The glorious inhabitants of the heavenly world the saints and angels there, who rejoice when one sinner repents are earnestly waiting, in an assured and joyful dependence on God’s promises of that conversion of the world and marriage of the Lamb, which shall take place when that glorious day comes: and therefore they are represented as all with one accord rejoicing, and praising God with such mighty exultation and triumph, when it is accomplished, Rev. xix.
Precepts, encouragements, and examples.
the word of God is full of precepts, encouragements, and examples, tending to excite and induce the people of God to be much in prayer for this mercy. The Spirit of God is the chief of blessings, for it is the sum of all spiritual blessings; which we need infinitely more than others, and wherein our true and eternal happiness consists. That which is the sum of the blessings Christ purchased, is the sum of the blessings Christians have to pray for; but that, as was observed before, is the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when the disciples came to Christ, desiring him to teach them to pray, (Luke xi.) and he accordingly gave them particular directions for the performance of this duty; he adds, ver. 13. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” From which words of Christ, we may also observe, that there is no blessing we have so great encouragement to pray for, as the Spirit of God. The words imply, that our heavenly Father is especially ready to bestow his Holy Spirit on them that ask him. The more excellent the nature of any benefit is, which we stand in need of, the more ready God is to bestow it, in answer to prayer. The infinite goodness of God’s nature is the more gratified, the grand design of our redemption is the better answered, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, has the greater success in his undertaking and labours; and those desires which are expressed in prayer for the most excellent blessings, are the most excellent desires, and consequently such as God most approves of, and is most ready to gratify.
The Scriptures do not only direct and encourage us, in general, to pray for the Holy Spirit above all things else; but it is the expressly revealed will of God, that his church should be very much in prayer for that glorious outpouring of the Spirit, which is to be in the latter days, and for what shall be accomplished by it. God, speaking of that blessed event, Ezek. xxxvi. under the figure of “cleansing the house of Israel from all their iniquities, planting and building their waste and ruined places, and making them to become like the garden of Eden, and filling them with men like a flock, like the holy flock, the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts,” 325325 In this passage the prophet doubtless has respect to the same glorious restoration and advancement of his church that is spoken of in the next chapter, and in all the following chapters to the end of the book. he says, ver. 37. “Thus saith the Lord, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” Which doubtless implies it is the will of God, that extraordinary prayerfulness in his people for this mercy should precede the bestowment of it.
I know of no place in the Bible, where so strange an expression is made use of to signify importunity in prayer, as is used in Isa. lxii. 6, 7. where the people of God are called upon to be importunate for this mercy: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” How strong is the phrase! And how loud is this call to the church of God, to be fervent and incessant in their cries to him for this great mercy! How wonderful the words used, concerning the manner in which such worms of the dust should address the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity! And what encouragement is here, to approach the mercy-seat with the greatest freedom, humble boldness, earnestness, constancy, and full assurance of faith, to seek of God this greatest favour that can be sought in Christian prayer!
It is a just observation of a certain eminent minister of the church of Scotland, in a discourse lately published on social prayer, in which, speaking of pleading for the success of the gospel, as required by the Lord’s prayer, he says, “That notwithstanding of its being so compendious, yet the one half of it, that is, three petitions in six, and these the first prescribed, do all relate to this great case: so that to put any one of these petitions apart, or all of them together, is upon the matter, to pray that the dispensation of the gospel may be blessed with divine power.” That glorious day is the proper and appointed time, above all others, for bringing to pass the things requested in each of these petitions. The prophecies every where represent that as the time, which God has especially appointed for glorifying his own great name in this world, causing “his glory to be revealed, that all flesh may see it together,” causing it “openly to be manifested in the sight of the heathen,” filling the whole world with the light of his glory to such a degree, that “the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed” before that brighter glory; the appointed time for glorifying and magnifying the name of Jesus Christ, causing “every knee to bow and every tongue to confess to him.” This is the proper time of God’s kingdom coming, or of Christ coming in his kingdom: that is, the very time foretold in the Dan. ii. 2d of Daniel, when the Lord God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, in the latter times of the last monarchy, when it is divided into ten kingdoms.
And that is the very time foretold in the Dan. vii. 7th of Daniel, 291when there should be “given to one like the Son of man, dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve them; and the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole heaven, shall he given to the people of the saints of the most high God,” after the destruction of the little horn, that should continue for a time, times, and the dividing of time. And that is the time wherein “God’s will shall be done on earth, as it is done in heaven;” when heaven shall, as it were, be bowed, and come down to the earth, as “God’s people shall be all righteous, and holiness to the Lord shall be written on the bells of the horses,” &c. So that the three first petitions of the Lord’s prayer are, in effect, no other than requests for bringing on this glorious day. And as the Lord’s prayer begins with asking for this, in the three first petitions, so it concludes with it in these words, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Which words imply a request, that God would take to himself his great power, and reign, and manifest his power and glory in the world. Thus Christ teaches us, that it becomes his disciples to seek this above all other things, and make it the first and the last in their prayers, and that every petition should be put up in subordination to the advancement of God’s kingdom and glory in the world.
Besides what has been observed of the Lord’s prayer, if we look through the whole Bible, and observe all the examples of prayer that we find there recorded, we shall not find so many prayers for any other mercy, as for the deliverance, restoration, and prosperity of the church, and the advancement of God’s glory and kingdom of grace in the world. If we well consider the prayers recorded in the book of Psalms, I believe we shall see reason to think, that a very great, if not the greater, part of them, are prayers uttered, either in the name of Christ, or in the name of the church, for such a mercy: and, undoubtedly, the greatest part of the book of Psalms is made up of prayers for this mercy, prophecies of it, and prophetical praises for it. 326326 The prophets, in their prophecies of the restoration and advancement of the church, very often speak of it as what shall he done in answer to the prayers of God’s people. Isa. xxv. 9. Isa. xxvi. 9, l2, 13, 16. 17, to the end. Chap. Isa. xxxiii. 2. Psal. cii. 13-22.Jer. iii. 21.Isa. lxv. 24. Isa.xli. 17. Hos. v. 15. with vi. 1, 2, 3. and Hos. xiv. 2, to the end. Zech. x. 6. Zech. xii. 10. and Zech. xiii. 9. Isa. lv. 6. with ver. 12, 13. Jer. xxxiii. 3. The prophecies of future glorious times of the church are often introduced with a prayer of the church for her deliverance and advancement, prophetically uttered: as in Isa. li. 9, &c. Chap. Isa. lxiii. 11,to the end, and Isa. lxiv. throughout.
In order to Christ being mystically born, in the advancement of true religion, and the great increase of true converts, who are spoken of as having Christ formed in them, the Scriptures represent it as requisite, that the church should first be “in travail, crying in pain to be delivered;” Rev. xii. 1, 2, 5. And we have good reason to understand by it her exercising strong desires, wrestling and agonizing with God in prayer, for this event; because we find such figures of speech used in this sense elsewhere: so Gal. iv. 19. “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you.” Isa. xxvi. 16, 17. “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them. Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs, so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.” And certainly it is fit, that the church of God should be in travail for that, for which the whole creation travails in pain.
The Scripture does not only abundantly manifest it to be the duty of God’s people to be much in prayer for this great mercy, but it also abounds with manifold considerations to encourage them in it, and animate them with hopes of success. There is perhaps no one thing that the Bible so much promises, in order to encourage the faith, hope, and prayers of the saints, as this; which affords to God’s people the clearest evidences that it is their duty to be much in prayer for this mercy. For, undoubtedly, that which God abundantly makes the subject of his promises, God’s people should abundantly make the subject of their prayers. It also affords them the strongest assurances that their prayers shall be successful. With what confidence may we go before God, and pray for that, of which we have so many exceeding precious and glorious promises to plead! The very first promise of God to fallen man, (Gen. iii. 15.) It shall bruise thy head, is to have its chief fulfilment at that day. And the whole Bible concludes with a promise of the glory of that day, and a prayer for its fulfilment. Rev. xxii. 20. “He that testifieth these things, saith, Surely I come quickly; Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
The Scripture gives us great reason to think, that when once there comes to appear much of a spirit of prayer in the church of God for this mercy, then it will soon be accomplished. It is evidently with reference to this mercy, that God makes the promise in Isa. xli. 17-19. “When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them; I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water; I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree, the pine, and the box-tree together.” Spiritual waters and rivers are explained by the apostle John, to be the Holy Spirit, (John vii. 37-39.) It is now a time of scarcity of these spiritual waters; there are, as it were, none. If God’s people, in this time of great drought, were but made duly sensible of this calamity, and their own emptiness and necessity, and brought earnestly to thirst and cry for needed supplies, God would, doubtless, soon fulfil this blessed promise. We have another promise much like this, in Psal. cii. 16, 17. “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory; he will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” And remarkable are the words that follow in the next verse, “This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created, shall praise the Lord.” Which seems to signify, that this promise shall be left on record to encourage some future generation of God’s people to pray and cry earnestly for this mercy, to whom he would fulfil the promise, and thereby give them, and great multitudes of others who should be converted through their prayers, occasion to praise his name.
Who knows but that the generation here spoken of, may be this present generation? One thing mentioned in the character of that future generation, is certainly true concerning the present, viz. That it is destitute. The church of God is in very low, sorrowful, and needy circumstances; and if the next thing there supposed, were also verified in us, viz. That we were made sensible of our great calamity, and brought to cry earnestly to God for help, I am persuaded the third would be also verified, viz. That our prayers would be turned into joyful praise, for God’s gracious answers of them. It is spoken of as a sign and evidence, that the time to favour Zion is come, when God’s servants are brought by their prayerfulness for her restoration, in an eminent manner, to show that they favour her stones and dust; (ver. 13, 14.) “Thou shall arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come; for thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.”
God has respect to the prayers of his saints in all his government of the world; as we may observe by the representation made Rev. viii. at the beginning. There we read of seven angels standing before the throne of God, and receiving of him seven trumpets, at the sounding of which, great and mighty changes were to be brought to pass in the world, through many successive ages. But when these angels had received their trumpets, they must stand still, and all must be in silence, not one of them must be allowed to sound, till the prayers of the saints are attended to. The angel of the covenant, as a glorious high priest, comes and stands at the altar, with much incense, to offer with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, before the throne; and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascends up with acceptance before God, out of the angel’s hand: and then the angels prepare themselves to sound. And God, in the events of every trumpet, remembers those prayers: as appears at last, by the great and glorious things he accomplishes for his church, in the issue of all, in answer to these prayers, in the event of the last trumpet, which brings the glory of the latter days, when these prayers shall be turned into joyful praises. Rev. xi. 15-17. “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four-and-twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art and wast and art to come, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.” Since it is the pleasure of God so to honour his people, as to carry on all the designs of his kingdom in this way, viz. By the prayers of his saints; this gives us great reason to think, that whenever the time comes that God gives an extraordinary spirit of prayer for the promised advancement of his kingdom on earth which is God’s great aim in all preceding providences, and the main thing that the spirit of prayer in the saints aims at then the fulfilment of this event is nigh.
God, in wonderful grace, is pleased to represent himself, as it were, at the command of his people with regard to mercies of this nature, so as to be ready to bestow them whenever they shall earnestly pray for them; Isa. xlv. 11. “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me.” What God is speaking of, in this context, is the restoration of his church; not only a restoration from temporal calamity and an outward captivity, by Cyrus; but also a spiritual restoration and advancement, by God’s commanding the heavens to “drop down from above, and the skies to pour down righteousness, and causing the earth to open and bring forth salvation, and righteousness to spring up together,”ver. 8. God would have his people ask of him, or inquire of him by earnest prayer, to do this for them; and manifests himself as being at the command of earnest prayers for such a mercy: and a reason why God is so ready to hear such prayers is couched in the words, viz. Because it is prayer for his own church, his chosen and beloved people, “his sons and daughters, and the work of his hands;” and he cannot deny any thing that is asked for their comfort and prosperity.
God speaks of himself as standing ready to be gracious to his church, and to appear for its restoration, and only waiting for such an opportunity to bestow this mercy, when he shall hear the cries of his people for it, that he may bestow it in answer to their prayers. Isa. xxx. 18, 19. “Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious to thee: and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you; for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem. Thou shall weep no more; he will be very gracious unto thee, at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.” The words imply, that when God once sees his people much engaged in praying for this mercy, it shall be no longer delayed. Christ desires to “hear the voice of his spouse, who is in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs;” 327327 Sol. Song ii. 14. in a low and obscure state, driven into secret corners; he only waits for this, in order to put an end to her state of affliction, and cause “the day to break, and the shadows to flee away.” If he once heard her voice in earnest prayer, he would come swiftly over the mountains of separation between him and her, as a roe, or young hart; (Sol. Song ii. 14,. &c.)
When his church is in a low state, and oppressed by her enemies, and cries to him, he will swiftly fly to her relief, as birds fly at the cry of their young; (Isa. xxxi. 5.) Yea, when that glorious day comes, “before they call, he will answer them, and while they are yet speaking, he will hear;” and in answer to their prayers, he will make ” the wolf and the lamb feed together,” &c. (Isa. lxv. 24, 25.) When the spouse prays for the effusion of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of Christ, by granting the tokens of his spiritual presence in the church, (Cant. iv. 16.) “Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out; let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits;” there seems to be an immediate answer to her prayer, in the next words, in “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honey-comb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” 328328 Cant. v. 1.
Scripture instances and examples of success in prayer give great encouragement to pray for this mercy. Most of the remarkable deliverances and restorations of the church of God, mentioned in the Scriptures, were in answer to prayer. For instance, the redemption of the church of God from the Egyptian bondage. 329329 Exod. ii. 23. and Exod. iii. 7. The great restoration of the church in the latter day, is spoken of as resembled by this; as Isa. lxiv. 1-4. Isa. xi. 11, 15. 16. Isa. xliii.2, 3, 16-19. li. 10, 11, 15. Isa. lxiii.11, 12, 13. Zech. 10, 11. Hos. ii. 14, 15. It was in answer to prayer, that the sun stood still over Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Aijalon, and God’s people obtained that great victory over their enemies; in which wonderful miracle, God seemed to have some respect to a future more glorious event to be accomplished for the Christian church, in the day of her victory ever her enemies, in the latter days; even that event foretold, Isa. xl. 20. “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself.”
It was in answer to prayer, that God delivered his church from the mighty hosts of the Assyrians, in Hezekiah’s time; which dispensation is a type of the great things God will do for the Christian church in the latter days. The restoration of the church of God from the Babylonish captivity, as abundantly appears both by scripture prophecies, and histories, was in answer to extraordinary prayer. 330330 See Jer. xxix. 10-14. and Jer. l. 4. 5. Dan. ix. throughout. Ezra. viii. 21. &c. Neh. i. 4. to the end. Neh. iv. 4, 5. and chap. Neh. ix. throughout. This restoration of the Jewish church, after the destruction of Babylon, is evidently a type of the glorious restoration of the Christian church, after the destruction of the kingdom of antichrist; which is abundantly spoken of in the revelation of St. John, as the antitype of Babylon. Samson out of weakness received strength to pull down Dagon’s temple, through prayer. So the people of God, in the latter days, will out of weakness be made strong, and will become the instruments of pulling down the kingdom of Satan by prayer.
The Spirit of God was poured out upon Christ himself, in answer to prayer; Luke iii. 21, 22. “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, upon him; and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” The Spirit descends on the church of Christ, the same way, in this respect, that it descended on the head of the church. The greatest effusion of the Spirit that ever yet has been, even that which was in the primitive times of the Christian church, which began in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, was in answer to extraordinary prayer. When the disciples were gathered together to their Lord, a little before his ascension, “he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me,” i. e. the promise of the Holy Ghost; Acts i. 4. What they had their hearts upon was the restoration of the kingdom of Israel: “Lord, (say they,) wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (ver. 6.) And according to Christ’s direction, after his ascension, they returned to Jerusalem, and continued in united fervent prayer and supplication. It seems they spent their time in it from day to day, without ceasing; till the Spirit came down in a wonderful manner upon them, and that work was begun which never ceased, and all the chief nations were converted to Christianity. And that glorious deliverance and advancement of the Christian church, that was in the days of Constantine the Great, followed the extraordinary cries of the church of God, as the matter is represented, Rev. vi. at the opening of the fifth seal. The church in her suffering state, is represented crying with a loud voice, “How long, Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” And the opening of the next seal brings on that mighty revolution, in the days of Constantine, compared to those great changes that shall be at the end of the world.
As there is so great and manifold reason from the word of God, to think that if a spirit of earnest prayer for that great effusion of the Spirit of God which I am speaking of, 293 prevailed in the Christian church, the mercy would be soon granted; so those that are engaged in such prayer might well expect the first benefit, God will come to those that are seeking him and waiting for him; Isa. xxv. 9. and xxvi. 8. When Christ came in the flesh, he was first revealed to them who were waiting for the consolation of Israel, and looking for redemption in Jerusalem, Luke i. 25, 38. And in that great outpouring of the Spirit that was in the days of the apostles, which was attended with such glorious effects among the Jews and Gentiles, the Spirit came down first on those that were engaged in united earnest prayer for it. A special blessing is promised to them that love and pray for the prosperity of the church of God, Psalm cxxxii. 6. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee.”
Motives to excite us.
we are presented with many motives in the dispensations of divine providence, at this day, to excite us to be much in prayer for this mercy. There is much in providence to show us our need of it, and put us on desiring it. The great outward calamities, in which the world is involved; and particularly the bloody war that embroils and wastes the nations of Christendom, and in which our nation has so great a share, may well make all that believe God’s word, and love mankind, earnestly long and pray for that day, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the nations shall beat their swords into plow-shares.
But especially do the spiritual calamities and miseries of the present time, show our great need of that blessed effusion of God’s Spirit: there having been, for so long a time, so great a withholding of the Spirit, from the greater part of the Christian world, and such dismal consequences of it, in the great decay of vital piety, and the exceeding prevalence of infidelity, heresy, and all manner of vice and wickedness. Of this a most affecting account has lately been published in a pamphlet, printed in London, and reprinted in Scotland, entitled Britain’s Remembrancer; by which it seems that luxury, and wickedness of almost every kind, is well nigh come to the utmost extremity in the nation; and if vice should continue to prevail and increase for one generation more, as it has the generation past, it looks as though the nation could hardly continue in being, but must sink under the weight of its own corruption and wickedness.
And the state of things in the other parts of the British dominions, besides England, is very deplorable. The church of Scotland has very much lost her glory, greatly departing from her ancient purity, and excellent order; and has of late been bleeding with great and manifold wounds, occasioned by their divisions and hot contentions. And there are frequent complaints from thence, by those that lament the corruptions of that land, of sin and wickedness of innumerable kinds, abounding and prevailing of late, among all ranks of men. And how lamentable is the moral and religious state of these American colonies! of New England in particular! How much is that kind of religion which was professed, much experience, and practice, in the first and apparently the best times in New England, grown and growing out of credit! What fierce and violent contentions have been of late among ministers and people, about things of a religions nature! How much is the gospel-ministry grown into contempt! and the work of the ministry, in many respects, laid under uncommon difficulties, and even in danger of sinking amongst us! How many of our congregations and churches rending in pieces! Church discipline weakened, and ordinances less and less regarded! What wild and extravagant notions, gross delusions of the devil, and strange practices, have prevailed, and do still prevail in many places, under a pretext of extraordinary purity, spirituality, liberty, and zeal against formality, usurpation, and conformity to the world! How strong, deeply rooted, and general, are the prejudices that prevail against vital religion and the power of godliness, and almost every thing that appertains to it, or tends to it! How apparently are the hearts of people, every where, uncommonly shut up against all means and endeavours to awaken sinners and revive religion! Vice and immorality, of all kinds, withal increasing and unusually prevailing! May not an attentive view and consideration of such a state of things well influence the people that favour the dust of Zion, to earnestness in their cries to God for a general outpouring of his Spirit, which alone can be an effectual remedy for these evils?
Besides, the fresh attempts made by the antiChristian powers against the protestant interest, in their late endeavours to restore a popish government in Great Britain, the chief bulwark of the protestant cause; as also the persecution lately revived against the protestants in France; may well give occasion to the people of God, to renewed and extraordinary earnestness in their prayers to him, for the fulfilment of the promised downfall of antichrist, and that liberty and glory of his church that shall follow.
As there is much in the present state of things to show us our great need of this mercy, and to cause us to desire it; so there is very much to convince us, that God alone can bestow it; and show us our entire and absolute dependence on him for it. The insufficiency of human abilities to bring to pass any such happy change in the world as is foretold, or to afford any remedy to mankind from such miseries as have been mentioned, does now remarkably appear. Those observations of the apostle, 1 Cor. i. “The world by wisdom knows not God, and God makes foolish the wisdom of this world,” never were verified to such a degree as they are now. Great discoveries have been made in the arts and sciences, and never was human learning carried to such a height, as in the present age; and yet never did the cause of religion and virtue run so low, in nations professing the true religion. Never was there an age wherein so many learned and elaborate treatises have been written, in proof of the truth and divinity of the Christian religion; yet never were there so many infidels, among those that were brought up under the light of the gospel. It is an age, as is supposed, of great light, freedom of thought, discovery of truth in matters of religion, detection of the weakness and bigotry of our ancestors, and of the folly and absurdity of the notions of those who were accounted eminent divines in former generations; which notions, it is imagined, destroyed the very foundations of virtue and religion, and enervated all precepts of morality, and in effect annulled all difference between virtue and vice; and yet vice and wickedness did never so prevail, like an overflowing deluge. It is an age wherein those mean and stingy principles, as they are called, of our forefathers, which are supposed to have deformed religion, and led to unworthy thoughts of God, are very much discarded and grown out of credit, and thoughts of the nature of religion, and of the Christian scheme, supposed to be more free, noble, and generous, are entertained. But yet never was there an age, wherein religion in general was so much despised and trampled on, and Jesus Christ and God Almighty so blasphemed and treated with open, daring contempt.
The exceeding weakness of mankind, and their insufficiency in themselves for bringing to pass any thing great and good in the world, with regard to its moral and spiritual state, remarkably appears in many things that have attended and followed the extraordinary religious commotion, that has lately been in many parts of Great Britain and America. The infirmity of human nature has been manifested, in a very affecting manner, in the various passions of men, and the innumerable ways in which they have been moved, as a reed shaken with the wind, on occasion of the changes and incidents, both public and private, of such a state of things. How many errors and extremes are we liable to! How quickly blinded, misled, and confounded! And how easily does Satan make fools of men, if confident in their own wisdom and strength, and left to themselves! Many, in the late wonderful season, were ready to admire and trust in men, as if all depended on such and such instruments; at least, ascribed too much to their skill and zeal, because God was pleased to employ them a little while to do extraordinary 294things; but what great things does the skill and zeal of instruments do now, when the Spirit of God is withdrawn?
As the present state of things may well excite earnest desires after the promised general revival and advancement of true religion, and serve to show our dependence on God for it, so there are many things in providence, of late, that tend to encourage us in prayer for such a mercy. That infidelity, heresy, and vice do so prevail, and that corruption and wickedness are risen to such an extreme height, is exceeding deplorable; but yet, I think, considering God’s promises to his church, and the ordinary method of his dispensations, hope may justly be gathered from it, that the present state of things will not last long, but that a happy change is nigh. We know, that God never will desert the cause of truth and holiness, nor suffer the gates of hell to prevail against the church; and that usually, from the beginning of the world, the state of the church has appeared most dark, just before some remarkable deliverance and advancement: “Many a time, may Israel say, Had not the Lord been on our side, then our enemies would have swallowed us up quick. The waters had overwhelmed us. 331331 Psal. cxxiv. 1-4. ” The church’s extremity has often been God’s opportunity for magnifying his power, mercy, and faithfulness towards her. The interest of vital piety has long been in general decaying, and error and wickedness prevailing; it looks as though the disease were now come to a crisis, and that things cannot remain long in such a state, but that a change may be expected in one respect or other.
And not only God’s manner of dealing with his church in former ages, and many things in the promises and prophecies of his word, but also several things appertaining to present and late aspects of divine providence, seem to give reason to hope that the change will be such, as to magnify God’s free grace and sovereign mercy, and not his revenging justice and wrath. There are certain times, which are days of vengeance, appointed for the more special displays of God’s justice and indignation. God has also his days of mercy, accepted times, chosen seasons, wherein it is his pleasure to show mercy, and nothing shall hinder it; times appointed for the magnifying of the Redeemer and his merits, and for the triumphs of his grace, wherein his grace shall triumph over men’s unworthiness in its greatest height. And if we consider God’s late dealings with our nation and this land, it appears to me that there is much to make us think that this is such a day. 332332 Particularly God’s preserving and delivering the nation, when in so great danger of ruin by the late rebellion; and his preserving New England, and the other British colonies in America, in so remarkable a manner, from the great armament from France, prepared and sent against us the last year; and the almost miraculous success given us against our enemies at Cape-Breton the year before, disappointing their renewed preparations and fresh attempt against these colonies, this present year, (1747.) by delivering up the strength of their fleet into the hands of the English, as they were in their way hither And also in protecting us from time to time from armies by land that have come against us from Canada, since the beginning of the present war with France. Besides many strange instances of protection of particular forts and settlements, showing a manifest interposition of the hand of heaven, to the observation of some of our enemies, and even of the savages. And added to these, the late unexpected restoring of the greater part of our many captives in Canada, by those that held them prisoners there. It appears to me, that God has gone much out of his usual way. in his exercises of mercy, patience, and long suffering, in these instances.
God’s patience was very wonderful of old, towards the ten tribes, and the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and afterwards to the Jews in the times of Christ and the apostles; but it seems to me, all things considered, not equal to his patience and mercy to us. God does not only forbear to destroy us, notwithstanding all our provocations. but he has wrought great things for us, wherein his hand has been most visible, and his arm made bare; especially those two instances in America, God succeeding us against Cape-Breton, and confounding the Armada from France the last year; dispensations of providence, which, if considered in all their circumstances, were so wonderfully and apparently manifesting an extraordinary divine interposition, that they come perhaps the nearest to a parallel with God’s wonderful works of old, in the times of Moses, Joshua, and Hezekiah, of any that have been in these latter ages of the world. And it is to my present purpose to observe, that God was pleased to do great things for us in both these instances, in answer to extraordinary prayer. Such remarkable appearances of a spirit of prayer, on any particular public occasion, have not been in the land, at any time within my observation and memory, as on occasion of the affair of Cape-Breton. And it is worthy to be remembered, that God sent that great storm on the fleet of our enemies the last year, that finally dispersed, and utterly confounded them, and caused them wholly to give over their designs against us, the very night after our day of public fasting and prayer, for our protection and their confusion.
Thus, although it be a day of great apostacy and provocation, yet it is apparently a day of the wonderful works of God; wonders of power and mercy; which may well lead us to think on those two places of Scripture; Psal. cxix. 126. “It is time for thee, Lord, to work, for they have made void thy law.” And Psal. lxxv. 1. “That thy name is near, thy wondrous works declare.” God appears, as it were, loth to destroy us, or deal with us according to our iniquities, great and aggravated as they are; and shows that mercy pleases him. Though a corrupt time, it is plain, by experience, that it is a time wherein God may be found, and he stands ready to show mercy in answer to prayer. He that has done such great things, and has so wonderfully and speedily answered prayer for temporal mercies, will much more give the Holy Spirit if we ask him. He marvellously preserves us, and waits to be gracious to us, as though he chose to make us monuments of his grace, and not of his vengeance, and waits only to have us open our mouths wide, that he may fill them.
The late remarkable religious awakenings, in many parts of the Christian world, may justly encourage us in prayer for the promised glorious and universal outpouring of the Spirit of God. “About the year 1732 or 1733, God was pleased to pour out his Spirit on the people of Saltizburg in Germany, who were living under popish darkness, in a most uncommon manner; so that above twenty thousand of them, merely by reading the Bible, which they made a shift to get in their own language, were determined to throw off popery, and embrace the reformed religion; yea, and to become so very zealous for the truth and gospel of Jesus Christ, as to be willing to suffer the loss of all things in the world, and actually to forsake their houses, lands, goods, and relations, that they might enjoy the pure preaching of the gospel; with great earnestness, and tears in their eyes, beseeching protestant ministers to preach to them, in different places where they came, when banished from their own country.” In the year 1734 and 1735, there appeared a very great and general awakening, in the county of Hampshire, in the province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England, and also in many parts of Connecticut. Since this, there has been a far more extensive awakening of many thousands in England, Wales, and Scotland, and almost all the British provinces in North America. There has also been something remarkable of the same kind, in some places in the united Netherlands; and about two years ago, a very great awakening and reformation of many of the Indians, in the Jerseys, and Pennsylvania, even among such as never embraced Christianity before: and within these two years, a great awakening in Virginia and Maryland.
Notwithstanding the great diversity of opinions about the issue of some of these awakenings, yet I know of none, who have denied that there have been great awakenings of late, in these times and places, and that multitudes have been brought to more than common concern for their salvation, and for a time were made more than ordinarily afraid of sin, and brought to reform their former vicious courses, and take much pains for their salvation. If I should be of the opinion of those who think, that these awakenings arid striving of God’s Spirit have been generally not well improved, and so, as to most, have ended in enthusiasm and delusion; yet, that the Spirit of God has been of late so wonderfully striving with such multitudes in so many different parts of the world, and even to this day, in one place or other, continues to awaken men is what I should take great encouragement from, that God was about to do something more glorious, and would, before he finishes, bring things to a greater ripeness, and not finally suffer 295this work of his to be frustrated and rendered abortive by Satan’s crafty management. And may we not hope, that these unusual commotions are the forerunners of something exceeding glorious approaching; as the wind, earthquake, and fire at mount Sinai, were forerunners of that voice wherein God was in a more eminent manner? (1 Kings xix. 11, 12.)
The beauty and good tendency of such union.
HOW condecent, how beautiful, and of good tendency would it be, for multitudes of Christians, in various parts of the world, by explicit agreement, to unite in such prayer as is proposed to us. Union is one of the most amiable things that pertains to human society; yea, it is one of the most beautiful and happy things on earth, which indeed makes earth most like heaven. God has made of one blood all nations of men, to dwell on all the face of the earth; hereby teaching us this moral lesson, that it becomes mankind all to be united as one family. And this is agreeable to the nature God has given men, disposing them to society; and the circumstances in which he has placed them, so many ways obliging and necessitating them to it. A civil union, or an harmonious agreement among men in the management of their secular concerns, is amiable; but much more a pious union, and sweet agreement in the great business for which man was created, even the business of religion; the life and soul of which is love. Union is spoken of in Scripture as the peculiar beauty of the church of Christ, Cant. vi. 9. “My dove, my undefiled, is but one, she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her; the daughters saw her and blessed her, yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.” Psal. cxxii. 5. “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together.” Eph. iv. 3-6. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ver. l6. “The whole body fitly framed together and compacted, by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying itself in love.”
As it is the glory of the church of Christ, that in all her members, however dispersed, she is thus one, one holy society, one city, one family, one body; so it is very desirable, that this union should be manifested, and become visible. It is highly desirable, that her distant members should act as one, in those things that concern the common interest of the whole body, and in those duties and exercises wherein they have to do with their common Lord and Head, as seeking of him the common prosperity. As it becomes all the members of a particular family, who are strictly united, and have in so many respects one common interest, to unite in prayer to God for the things they need; and as it becomes a nation, at certain seasons, visibly to unite in prayer for those public mercies that concern the interest of the whole nation: so, it becomes the church of Christ which is one holy nation, a peculiar people, one heavenly family, more strictly united, in many respects, and having infinitely greater interests that, are common to the whole, than any other society visibly to unite, and expressly to agree together, in prayer to God for the common prosperity; and above all, that common prosperity and advancement, so unspeakably great and glorious, which God hath so abundantly promised to fulfil in the latter days.
It becomes Christians, with whose character a narrow selfish spirit, above all others, disagrees, to be much in prayer for that public mercy, wherein consists the welfare and happiness of the whole body of Christ, of which they are members, and the greatest good of mankind. And union or agreement in prayer is especially becoming, when Christians pray for that mercy, which above all other things concerns them unitedly, and tends to the relief, prosperity, and glory of the whole body, as well as of each individual member.
Such an union in prayer for the general outpouring of the Spirit of God, would not only be beautiful, but profitable too. It would tend very much to promote union and charity between distant members of the church of Christ, to promote public spirit, love to the church of God, and concern for the interest of Zion; as well as be an amiable exercise and manifestation of such a spirit. Union in religious duties, especially in the duty of prayer, in praying one with and for another, and jointly for their common welfare, above almost all other things, tends to promote mutual affection and endearment. And if ministers and people should, by particular agreement and joint resolution, set themselves, in a solemn and extraordinary manner, from time to time, to pray for the revival of. religion in the world, it would naturally tend more to awaken in them a concern about things of this nature, and more of a desire after such a mercy. It would engage them to more attention to such an affair, make them more inquisitive about it, more ready to use endeavours to promote what they, with so many others, spend so much time in praying for. It would make them more ready to rejoice, and praise God, when they see or hear of any thing of that nature or tendency. And, in a particular manner, it would naturally tend to engage ministers the business of whose lives it should be, to seek the welfare of the church of Christ, and the advancement of his kingdom to greater diligence and earnestness in their work; and it would have a tendency to the spiritual profit and advantage of each particular person. For persons to be thus engaged in extraordinary prayer for the revival and flourishing state of religion in the world, will naturally lead each one to reflect on himself, and consider how religion flourishes in his own heart, and how far his example contributes to that for which he is praying.
On the whole there is great and particular encourage-went given in the word of God, to express union and agreement, in prayer. Daniel, when he had a great thing to request of God, viz. That he by his Holy Spirit would miraculously reveal to him a great secret, which none of the wise men, astrologers, magicians, or soothsayers of Babylon could find out, he goes to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and they agree together, that they will unitedly desire mercies of the God of heaven, concerning this secret; and their joint request was soon granted. God put great honour upon them, above all the wise men of Babylon, not only to their great joy, but also to the admiration and astonishment of Nebuchadnezzar, insomuch, that the great and haughty monarch, as we are told, fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel, and owned that his God was of a truth a God of gods, and he greatly promoted Daniel and his praying companions in the province of Babylon, Esther, when she had a yet more important request to make, for the saving of the church of God, and whole Jewish nation, dispersed through the empire of Persia, when on the brink of ruin, sends to all the Jews in the city Shushan, to pray and fast with her and her maidens; and their united prayers prevail; so that the event was wonderful. Instead of the intended destruction of the Jews, their enemies are destroyed every where, and they are defended, honoured, and promoted; their sorrow and distress is turned into great gladness, feasting, triumph, and mutual joyful congratulations.
The encouragement to explicit agreement in prayer is great from such instances as these; but it is yet greater from those wonderful words of our blessed Redeemer, Matt. xviii. 19. “I say unto you, that if any two of you shall agree on earth, touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Christ is pleased to give this great encouragement to the union of his followers in this excellent and holy exercise of seeking and serving God; a holy union and communion of his people being that which he greatly desires and delights in; that which he came into the world to bring to pass; that which he especially prayed for with his dying breath; (John xvii.) that which he died for; and which was one chief end of the whole affair of our redemption 296by him; Eph. i. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, wherein he hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him.”
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