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If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.
THIS Psalm is David’s grateful commemoration of all God’s mercies, together with a retribution of praise, the only recompence and return that the poor sons of men are able to make for divine favours. And David, as standing in a double relation, first of a king and public parent, under which he did not only govern, but represent his people; and, secondly, of a saint of God, under which notion it was his business to regard the peculiar interest of his own soul; so accordingly he does proportion his praises to these two several conditions: first, as he was a public person and a king, he gives thanks to God for public mercies; for he whose duty it was to love his people as himself, it was also his duty to esteem all mercies shewn to his people, at a second hand, shewn to himself. And this he does from the first to the thirteenth verse; where he praises God in respect of the glory of his majesty and the greatness of his power, which he had often employed in the miraculous deliverance of his people, from the first verse to the eighth. And then for his mercy and faithfulness, not only in ridding them out of adversity, but, by seasonable afflictions, securing them from the greater danger of prosperity: and this he does from the eighth verse to the thirteenth. 339And, secondly, as one of God’s saints, so he takes a more especial thankful notice of the personal favours that God had conferred upon him: and this he does from the thirteenth verse to the end of the Psalm. Wherein, for the manner of the duty, we may observe, that it is praise. As prayer is an asking or craving, so praise is a giving and returning; therefore not only a spiritual, but a kingly work; and consequently most beseeming David, who was in his days not only the most religious of men, but the best of kings. And it was that which gave him no less a preeminence above other saints, than his crown gave him prerogative over his people, that he was a man of praises, of all others the most frequent and earnest in this duty: which, in this sense, excels prayer; inasmuch as gratitude is more laudable than a craving desire. It was David’s best, his greatest and most lasting praise, that he made it his business to praise God. Secondly, for the matter of this praise; it was not things carnal, as the establishing his crown, and the enlarging his dominions, but it was spiritual; as in the sixteenth verse, I will declare what he has done for my soul.
Now in this acknowledgment of his we may observe, that the greatest argument of his praise was the sense of God’s gracious hearing his prayer, as appears from the two last verses, where in the verse immediately foregoing, containing the words of my text, he insinuates the reason of the success of his prayers, by shewing what would have hindered that success. He says, If he had regarded iniquity in his heart, God would not have heard him; therefore he implies, that his integrity, in not regarding it, was the reason that God did hear him. And 340thus I have given you the resolution and model of the whole Psalm, and therein the occasion of these words that I have read unto you, together with the connection they have with the foregoing and following verses.
The words may be considered two ways: 1st, As they have a peculiar reference to David and his particular condition; and so they are a vehement asseveration of his integrity. We read the words thus; If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me. But the Septuagint has it, μὴ εἰσακουσάτω μου Θεός; that is, let not God hear me. And so they are David’s avouchment of his uprightness, by an imprecation, or calling for a curse upon himself, namely, God’s not hearing his prayers, in case he was not really so upright, as in words he did protest himself to be. Thus Job also testifies his integrity in Job xxxi. 7, 8, If my steps have turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and any blot have cleaved to my hands; then let me sow, and let another eat. All this is an earnest protestation of Job’s steadfast walking before God. And thus the words hold forth a testimony of David’s uprightness; and, compared with the following verses, are not only a testimony, but a clear proof of it; and that in a perfect hypothetical syllogism. If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me: then it follows in the next verse, But verily, God hath heard me: and adding the conclusion, therefore I do not regard iniquity in my heart. It amounts to a full argumentation, proving the sincerity of David’s heart. Here we may note, as David does evince his integrity from the success of his prayers, as a sign and consequent 341of that integrity; so the hypocrite, or sinner, may invert the argument, and collect the future unsuccessfulness of all his prayers from his want of integrity; and that not only as a sign, but as the proper cause of that unsuccessfulness; in this manner, If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me: now the hypocrite must assume, But I regard iniquity in my heart: therefore he must also conclude, God will not hear me; he will have no respect unto my prayers. And thus much concerning the first consideration of the words.
2dly, The words may he considered absolutely in themselves, and so applicable to all men. In this sense they are a positive direction laid down in negative terms, and prescribing the way of our sincere worship of God. For interpreters do generally agree, that although David in these words intends to attest his own integrity, yet he does also no less intend to give men a rule for the regulation of their holy worship. For, by telling us that God does not respect the prayers of those that regard iniquity in their hearts, he does intimate, that the acceptation of all our holy services before God is grounded upon the inward, hearty sincerity of our souls; and therefore it ought to be our duty, both in point of reverence to God, and wisdom for our own interest, never to engage in any holy performance, without this sincerity, but especially in prayer, wherein men have the nearest address to God; and consequently, upon their sincerity, may here chiefly expect a blessing; and, upon the want of it, fear a judgment. I shall consider the words in this latter general sense; and so deduce from them an observation, not much distinct from the words themselves: for 342only by resolving them, as they lie in supposition, into a positive assertion, they afford us this doctrine:
Whosoever regards iniquity in his heart, the Lord will not hear him.
Or yet more plainly;
A man’s regarding or loving any sin in his heart, will certainly hinder his prayers from having any acceptance with God.
In the prosecution of this doctrine, I shall shew,
I. What it is for a man to regard or love sin in his heart.
II. What it is to have our prayers accepted with God.
III. How regarding or loving sin in the heart, hinders a man’s prayers from being thus accepted.
I. Concerning the first: a man may be said several ways to love or regard sin in his heart.
1st, There is a constant and habitual love of sin in the unregeneracy and corrupt estate of the soul. For a man, as considered in his pure, or rather his impure naturals, has not only a strong, but an universal love to sin. Sin was born, and lay in the same womb with every man; therefore he must needs love it as his brother. Now, as union is generally stated the effect of love, therefore, since the union between sin and our nature is so close, we may thence also collect, that the love is very great. In this sense sin and the corruption thereof is styled the flesh; not only by a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, because sin has its place and residence in the flesh; but also for the tender love and affection that we bear to it: for, as the apostle says, 343in Ephes. v. 29, No man hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it; and withal, because we continually carry it about us. A man may as well go abroad, and leave his body and his flesh behind him, as an unregenerate man go any whither not attended by his sin. It is called sometimes the body of sin, and that deservedly, because it is so nearly united to the soul. The scripture has several expressions, shewing the cursed habitual love that a natural man bears to his sin. Sometimes it is called his right eye, Matth. xviii. 9, than which nothing is more dear, God himself sometimes expresses the greatness of his love to his children in the same terms: he regards them as the apple of his eye. To have one’s eye continually upon any thing, argues a great love of it; but to account it as the eye itself, shews a love more than ordinary. Elsewhere, sin is called our right hand, Mark ix. 43, the member of use and execution; and therefore most carefully tendered by man, whose nature it is to be in continual action. How dear it is, the common expression demonstrates; we say of an extra ordinary and beloved friend, he is our right hand. It is also placed and lodged in the heart, Jerem. xvii. 9 which in every sinner, as it is the original of natural life, so it is the principle and fountain of spiritual death. Sin, it is the primum vivens, and the ultimum moriens; life the heart itself, which harbours it in every finally impenitent sinner: so exceedingly beloved, that many unregenerate men vouchsafe even to live and die with their sins; which is the highest pitch of love imaginable. Again, in Job xv. 16, the wicked is said to drink iniquity like water. No appetite so strong as that of thirst. 344Hence, as it is the peculiar distinguishing property of the godly to thirst after righteousness, Matt. v. 6, so it is of the wicked to thirst after iniquity; who quenches his present desire of sin with the actual commission of it; as a man does his thirst, that is, both with vehemence and delight. It is proper only to the drunkard to make his drink his sin; but it is the nature of every carnal man (if you will admit of the expression) to account his sin as desirable as his drink. But that we may yet further see how a natural man loves, tenders, and regards his sin; there is nothing dear and lovely to us, but the Spirit of God expresses sin by that. What more to be prized than our eyes or hands? What can or ought to be more dear to us than our heart? more desired than our food, or more amiable than life? Yet sin, we see, engrosses all the affections that ought to be distributed amongst all these. This love is yet more evident from the service a carnal man does for his sin, who bears rule over him, from his own voluntary subjection. It is the nature of love, where it is excessive, to enslave a man to the commands of the party whom he loves: as Jacob did for Rachel, so a wicked man for his sin; he will serve many years for it, and they shall seem but a few days, because of the love he bears to it. What God and nature has bestowed on man, that, man has made a full and total resignation of to sin, to be commanded, used, and employed by it: the understanding is busied to contrive iniquity; the senses to purvey and bring in provender for it, in the representation of sinful objects; the will to command and govern in the name of sin; the outward powers and members to execute those commands: so that the whole frame and structure 345of man is principled, and, as it were, even animated by sin: for first, it has general rule and possession of all the faculties; and, secondly, of all the actions that flow from those faculties. And then, for the perpetuity and constant course of those actions, Gen. vi. 5, they are sinful continually, and without any intermission. In short, he that regards iniquity in his heart, in this habitual way, he so regards it as he neither does or can regard any thing else. For the force and activity of man’s mind is a limited force; and as it is with our attention, so it is also with our love, it cannot be vehement and intense at the same time upon two different objects. Now, from what has been said, it follows, that in this manner a regenerate person cannot love or regard sin; and all unregenerate do.
2dly, There is a regarding of sin in the heart, that consists in an unmortified habit or course of sin: this is much different from the former, because even a child of God may thus regard sin, from the relics of corrupt nature, fired and stirred up by Satan’s temptations; for the model of a regenerate state is, like that of the body, mixed and compounded of contrary principles, grace and corruption, as that is of contrary elements. And as the elements, in the composure of the body, have their qualities allayed and retracted; so these habits of grace and corruption, as they are in a regenerate soul, are not in their utmost degree and extremity. For if grace were in its full height and latitude, there could be no corruption; which is a bliss rather to be wished for, than ever enjoyed in this life. And, on the other hand, if corruption were in its full extent or degree, there could be no grace, and so no regeneration. 346For it is the nature of contraries, that one arising to its highest pitch, does, by consequence, expel and devour the other. Wherefore grace and corruption are joined and contempered in a believing soul, from which conjunction arises a possibility of the entertainment of sinful habits and dispositions, even in the regenerate, though not such as are found in the unregenerate: in the one, they defile indeed and pollute; in the other, they prevail and domineer: in the one, they separate from the sense of God’s love; in the other, they take away all interest in it. Now, that there may be such sinful dispositions or habits in believers may be evinced,
1st, From example. When David had committed that gross sin of murder and adultery, if we compute the time from his sin to his repentance, which was dated from Nathan’s coming to him, we shall find that he continued in it for the space of a year. Now we must know, every intense and vehement action leaves a suitable disposition behind it upon the faculty, which, if seconded by actions of the same kind, or not weakened and destroyed by actions of a contrary nature, it daily gathers strength, and gets root and fixation in the mind, till it at length becomes a sinful habit, very difficultly to be removed. So that David, after the commission of so great a sin, must needs have had a further inclination to it left upon his spirit, which, by reason also of the compliance it found with his natural corruption, daily grew more and more fixed; for, although he did not reiterate it by other external actions, yet by his internal desires and approbations he did increase and confirm it; for it cannot be imagined but that he entertained those approbations 347of it as long as he deferred his repentance. Hereupon he found the work of repentance so hard, and his sin so hardly moveable, when he set about the penitent removal of it; so that he cries, Psalm xxxviii. 5, My wounds stink and are corrupt by reason of my foolishness. A wound immediately cured, soon after it was given, cannot stink or grow noisome. It is clear then, that David was not only guilty of sin, but also of continuance in sin; who, notwithstanding he was a son of God, and truly regenerate, yet had his heart overrun with a sinful habit and disposition.
2dly, It may be proved from scripture-reason, which is grounded upon those exhortations that are there made even to believers for the mortification of sin; as peculiarly, that, Rom. viii. 13, the apostle exhorts even those to mortify the deeds of the flesh, who were truly ingrafted into Christ; for they were such as, he said, in the first verse, were justified; such, to whom there was no condemnation: also he bids them mortify sin by the Spirit; but the Spirit is to be found in none but the regenerate. Now to mortify sin, is not properly to forbear one or many sinful actions, but it is the weakening or destroying a course or habit of sin. Comparing therefore the nature of the duty with the qualification of the persons to whom it was enjoined, the apostle must seem to insinuate a possibility that even believers may be entangled and overtook in a sinful course.
This therefore is the second kind of regarding sin in the heart; and the soul may thus love or regard sin two ways:
1st, Directly, and by a positive pursuance of it; as the following of one action by another; 348the backing of one sinful deed by a greater; when sin reigns by a cursed kind of succession; when one wicked action expires, another presently succeeds.
2dly, Indirectly, and by not attempting a vigorous mortification of it. In the former sense, we cherish sin by giving it food; in this second, by not taking that which it has away. Not to resist sin, and that by an indefatigable watching, striving, and praying against it, is to love it. He that does not attempt the utter ruin and death of it, does not hate it: for hatred, no less than love, is an active, restless quality, and cannot quiet itself, but in the destruction of the thing it hates. Can there be hatred, where there is agreement? Can we banish sin from our hearts, and yet hold it in our bosoms? He that is not against his sin, in a lively resistance, is for it in his affections. He that does not oppose the tempter, invites him. He that hinders not the occasion of his sin, tacitly wishes the event. Qui non prohibet cum debet, imperat. What mortification of sin is, in the nature, causes, and means of it, is not my present business to discourse; but let it suffice to note thus much, that it is a steady, thorough course of repentance and severe humiliation: and he that does not, by a continual rigid exercise of these duties, by hacking at the root of sin, bears a secret longing to the fruit.
And thus much of this second kind of love to sin; which consists in the cherishing an unmortified lust.
3dly, There is yet another kind of regarding sin in the heart, and that is, by an actual intention of the mind upon sin; If I regard iniquity: the Latin renders it, Si aspexissem iniquitatem; If I did 349 behold, if I cast a gracious aspect upon sin. True it is, that the most sincere, if they look upon their heart, must also look upon sin; but then they view it another way: the wicked look upon it with an eye of complacency and delight; the sincere, with an eye of hatred and detestation. The same sin, in a wicked and a godly eye, has a contrary hue; as the same colour, through different glasses, is conveyed under a different representation. Now, to look upon, signifies to be intent upon; the actions of the eye, by an easy metaphor, signifying the intention of the mind. Interpreters, in their expositions upon this place, unanimously run this way; Si aspexissem iniquitatem; that is, si prava intentione illum deprecatus fuissem, says one; Aspicere iniquitatem est peccato intentum esse et addictum, says another; or, as Mollerus has it, Cum proposito perseverandi in delicto contra conscientiam; to regard iniquity in our heart, is to address ourselves to God in prayer, with a purpose or intention of persevering in some sin, condemned and disallowed by our own conscience. And it is added, in the heart, to shew how little the outward duty avails, without inward uprightness. We may have clean hands, and yet a foul heart; that is, be free from the external commission of sin, yet defiled with the desires of it. We may regard it in our minds and intentions, while we declare against it in our professions; wherefore these ought chiefly to be rectified. Having thus shewn that there are three several ways of loving or regarding sin, I conceive the words are to be understood principally in this last sense, though not exclusively to the former; for it implies and takes them in, a fortiore. For if the 350actual intention of sin will hinder our prayers from being accepted, then much more a sinful disposition, or wicked course, as long as cherished and continued in: and if a sinful disposition disannul our prayers, then much more a state of unregeneracy. We may look upon these three under this difference. The purpose or intention of sin differs from a sinful disposition in respect of the duration and continuance of it. It is confessed, a sinful intention may be improved into a sinful course; but, considered as such, it implies no more than a bare intention; and, if cast off by an immediate repentance, it will be no more. Next, a sinful disposition differs from a state of unregeneracy, inasmuch as the precise nature of it neither implies prevalence, nor a graceless condition of the party in whom it is, both of which are absolutely implied in the other.
I have now done with the first general head, viz. to shew what it is to regard iniquity in the heart. I proceed to the
Second, which is to shew, what it is to have our prayers accepted with God: and this is to prevail with God for the obtaining the good thing we desire, by virtue of an interest in Jesus Christ, and in the covenant of grace: this is clear, from that general received truth, that the acceptance of our prayers is founded upon the acceptation of our persons: and this, we know, is from an interest in Christ: here upon Christ teaches his disciples the way of making their prayers successful, John xvi. 24, Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name, he will give it you; that is, what you ask, upon the score of that title and interest that you have in my merits. If it here be excepted, that although he indeed prescribes 351asking in his name, as a means of having our prayers granted, yet he does not exclude other means. I answer; that by commanding us so frequently to ask in his name, he does imply, that there is no other way of asking aright, so as to speed in the things we request; for if there was some other way, this exhortation were of little or no force. Hence, in Rev. viii. 3, we read of incense that was mingled and offered with the prayers of the saints; by which incense is meant the sweet savour of the meritorious sufferings of Christ, which alone was able to give virtue and value to those prayers which of themselves had none. And thus, by shewing what it is to have our prayers accepted, by the same is also manifest, who they are who have their prayers thus accepted; namely, those alone who have a portion in him; who cannot only ask of his Father, but also demand an answer for them; who can take what comes from our polluted lips, and perfume it with the incense of his own merits. I shall further assert and prove this truth, by removing some objections, which will naturally arise from what has been already said.
Objection. If the acceptance of our prayers bears upon the foundation of our interest in Christ, whence then is it that God hears the prayers of the wicked, who. are void of all such interest? as particularly appeal’s in Ahab, a sinner of the first magnitude, no where mentioned in scripture but with some distinguishing mark of impiety; yet, upon the intervention of his prayer and humiliation, God repeals a judgment denounced against him, and, from his own days, translates it to his son. I answer; that God, indeed, often seconds the prayers of the wicked 352with a blessing; but he does not give the blessing with any respect to their prayers, as the procuring cause of that blessing. But it may be replied; that neither are the prayers of the righteous any way a meritorious and procuring cause of any good thing from God; since the most exact of our endeavours are tainted with imperfection; so that, after all, we have cause to sit down as unprofitable servants. I answer; that the prayers of the righteous are not the procuring cause of any blessing, by virtue of any inherent merit in them; but by virtue of the free covenant and promise of God, who has engaged, upon the fervent and unfeigned prayers of the faithful, to grant their requests. But if it be further urged, that God says, Because Ahab humbled himself, I will not bring the evil threatened in his days, 1 Kings xxi. 29, therefore it seems that Ahab’s prayer had a causal influence as to the procurement of that merciful reprieve: to this I answer, that such expressions as signify causality are often applied to those things that are only occasions of such events. And so it is here: Ahab’s humiliation was no ways a procuring cause of that mercy; neither by any meritorious virtue residing in it, for the prayers of the wicked merit nothing but a denial; nor yet by any virtue that it has from any covenant made by God, who is so far from making any promise of hearing the prayers of the wicked, that he has expressly promised that he will not hear them. It was therefore only an occasion of this mercy; that is, the mercy so depended upon it, as if that humiliation had not been, he had never enjoyed the mercy; however, it was no cause of the mercy, neither deserving nor procuring. As for 353instance: if a rich man engage to relieve some beggars, upon their coming to his door and asking; although this their beggarly address has no value in it to merit a reward, yet, by virtue of the rich man’s promise and engagement, they may challenge it: now if he give the like alms to other beggars, to whom he had made no such promises, only upon their importunity; this their importunity does here neither deserve, nor can challenge an alms; yet it may be said properly to occasion it, inasmuch as, if it had not been for this, they had gone without it. And thus, I think, it is clear, that God may bestow upon the wicked the matter they pray for, and yet not hear their prayers; that he may grant them, and yet never accept them. And let me add another thing, that discriminates the prayers of the wicked from those of the faithful; that although God often gives them the thing they desired, yet he never gives it with an intent of mercy. Thus he gave the Israelites quails, but withal sent leanness into their bones. He so gives the thing, as he still withholds the blessing. When we are importuned by any one for something against our will, we at length cast it to him with anger: so I may say, God, being wearied with the restless, importunate cravings of a sinner, does not so much give, as rather angrily throw an outward blessing at him, whose very prayer is a sin; for what is it but a kind of extortion towards God himself? What we usually say amongst ourselves in ceremony, that is here verified in respect of God; that in all his bounty, not so much the substance of the gift, as the mind of the giver, is to be valued and regarded: yea, as God may, and often does deny some of the prayers of the 354righteous, out of love and mercy; so, out of anger and judgment, he grants the prayers of the wicked; whose very petitions are oftentimes their severest indictment; and their most devout requests may be interpreted into an imprecation.
It may be objected, if those that are in a state of sin regard iniquity in their heart, how then is it possible to get out of that estate? for how can they do it but by addressing themselves to God? and how can they address themselves unto God but by prayer? and we have already shewn, that the condition they are in renders their prayers ineffectual.
To this I answer; that in their first serious resolution and purpose to turn to God, they pass from the state of sinners into the state of the penitent, and are such in God’s account; and so, consequently, there is a change of their condition. For although it cannot be said, that they have repented, yet they are then repenting; though, like the prodigal, they are not come home to their heavenly Father, yet they are upon their journey. We must know repentance has several acceptions: it may be either taken for the change and alteration of the corrupt qualities of our nature, and so it is the same with sanctification, and follows faith, as the effect does its cause; and in this sense a wicked man, in his present estate, is not immediately capable of repentance. Secondly, repentance may be taken for a sincere alteration of a man’s sinful purposes and intentions; and so it precedes faith; and a wicked man ought and may repent; it is a duty immediately incumbent upon him in order to his salvation. Although, when I say a wicked man may repent, and thereupon his prayers be acceptable to 355God; we must distinguish between the instant immediately going before his repentance, in respect of which only he is to le termed wicked; and the instant of his repentance, in respect of which he is be come another man. In the same sense, therefore, that the wicked may be said to repent, they may be said to have their prayers and services accepted; that is, the wicked antecedently so taken, (and, as they speak, in sensu diviso,) to wit, before the instant of their repentance, not concomitantly, and in sensu composito; the wicked as such, and while he is such, can neither repent nor pray, nor have any audience or acceptance at the throne of grace.
And thus much concerning the second general head, viz. to shew what it is to have our prayers accepted with God. I proceed now to the
Third thing, to shew whence it is that a man’s regarding or loving sin in his heart hinders his prayers from acceptance with God.
1st, The first reason is, because in this case he cannot pray by the Spirit. All prayers that are acceptable with God are the breathings of his own Spirit within us. Rom. viii. 26, We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered. As without the intercession of Christ we cannot have our prayers accepted, so without the intercession of the Spirit we cannot pray. No prayers can find the way to heaven, but such as first come from thence. Every sincere prayer, it is a beam of the sun of righteousness darted into our hearts, and from thence reflecting back again. But now, as long as sin and the love of it has dominion in the soul, the Spirit of God is 356silent; for as prevailing corruption and the Spirit cannot cohabit together, so neither can they work together. The motions of sin and of the Spirit often struggle in the same heart, as Pharez and Zarah did in the same womb, in Gen. xxxviii. 29; the motions of the Spirit put forth their hand, but those of sin prevailing, they drew it back again, and sin comes out first. Wherefore, if any one bears a love and liking to sin, let him never expect to have his prayer accepted, till sin and the Spirit concur in the same petition.
2dly, The second reason is, because as long as a man regards iniquity in his heart, he cannot pray in faith; that is, he cannot build a rational confidence upon any promise that God will accept him. Now faith always respects the promise, and promise of acceptance is made only to the upright: so long, therefore, as men cherish a love of sin in their heart, they either understand not the promises, and so they pray without understanding; or they understand them, and yet misapply them to themselves, and so they pray in presumption: in either case they have little cause to hope for acceptance. This reason naturally issues from the former; for whosoever prays not in the Spirit prays not in faith; and every prayer made in faith is also indited by the Spirit; only with this distinction, that in every such prayer the Spirit is the principal agent, and faith the instrumental. Here we may observe, that faith may be either taken for the habit and seed of faith, or for the act and exercise of that habit. Now the unregenerate man has not so much as the habit or principle of faith, and so upon no hand can have his prayers accepted; and he that is truly regenerate, 357and endued with this principle, yet while he is entangled with the love of sin, cannot act nor exercise that principle, and so neither can his prayers be acceptable. Faith causes the soul fiducially and strongly to rely and cast itself upon God in prayer: love to sin causes the soul to depart and fly off from God. Faith clears up the evidence of our title to the promises; love to sin (although we have a title to the promises by conversion) yet it slurs and takes away the evidence; and when this is gone, we cannot pray with any life and vigour. But to manifest further the nature of a wicked man’s prayer not acted by faith, see Rom. xiv. 1 23, Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. No wonder, therefore, if that which is a sin, and so consequently deserves a curse, cannot prevail for the obtaining a blessing.
Objection. But it may be objected, if, during the time of our regard and love to integrity, our prayers (as not proceeding from faith) are sins, then it is our duty not to pray, since it is the duty of all men to forbear sin.
I answer; that this consequence is very unreasonable, inasmuch as omission of prayer is of its own nature a sin, and that a greater. And for that maxim, that it is the duty of all to forbear sin, it is to be understood of those actions, that in their own kind and nature are sins, not of those that are such by accident, and the defect of some circumstance; in which case the defect is to be amended, and not the action to be omitted. Now prayer of itself and in its nature is good, and becomes sinful only from some adherent corruption which derives a tincture and defilement upon it; wherefore it ought to be our business to endeavour the removal of this corruption, 358which weakens, pollutes, and defiles our prayers, and not to cease from prayer itself. And thus much for the second reason.
3dly, The third reason is, because while we regard iniquity in our hearts we cannot pray with fervency; which, next to sincerity, is the great qualification of prayer, to which God has annexed a promise of acceptance, Matth. xi. 12, The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent alone take it by force. Matth. vii. 7, Those only that seek are like to find and those that knock, to have admittance; all which expressions denote vehemence and importunity. Now the cause of vehemence in our prosecution of any good, is our love of it; for proportionable to the affection we bear to any thing is the earnestness of our desires, and the diligence of our pursuit after it. So long therefore as the love of sin possesses our hearts, our love to spiritual things is dull, heavy, inactive, and our prayers for them must needs be answerable. O the wretched fallacy that the soul will here put upon itself! At the same time, it will love its sin, and pray against it; at the same time, it will entreat for grace, with a desire not to prevail: as a father confesses of himself, that before his conversion he would pray for chastity, with a secret reserve in his wishes, that God would not grant his prayer. Such are the mysterious, intricate treacheries, by which the love of sin will make a soul deceive and circumvent itself. How languidly and faintly will it pray for spiritual mercies, conscience in the mean while giving the lie to every such petition! The soul, in this case, cannot pray against sin in earnest; it fights against it, but neither with hope nor intent to conquer; as 359lovers, usually, in a game one against another, with a desire to lose. So then, while we regard iniquity, how is it possible for us to regard spiritual things, the only lawful object of our prayers? and if we regard them not, how can we he urgent with God for the giving of them? and where there is no fervency on our part, no wonder if there is no answer on God’s.
And thus much concerning the reasons, why love to sin hinders the acceptance of our prayers: they would both admit and deserve a larger handling; but I pass to the application: which shall be only an use of exhortation to all, that in their prayers they would endeavour to come with hearts free from hypocrisy and the love of sin; and, from what has been said, make that conclusion that Paul did in 2 Tim. ii. 19, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ (especially in prayer) depart from iniquity. The prayer will still savour of that which lies in the heart; as the putrefaction of the inward parts give a noisomeness to the breath. God, that would not let David, because he had made great wars, and shed much blood, build him a temple, if thou earnest blood and revenge in thy heart, will not let thee worship in his temple. It was an excellent speech that Homer puts into the mouth of Hector, in the sixth Iliad; and, spoken by a Christian to the true God, from a principle of faith, might savour of good divinity. When he comes from the fight, and being entreated by his mother to sacrifice to the gods; “No,” says he;
Χερσὶ δ᾽ ἀνίπτοισι Δι λεθ́βειν αἴθοπα οἶνον>
Ἅζομαι· οὐδέ πη ἐστὶ κελαινεφέϊ Κρονίωνι
Αἵματι καὶ λύθρῳ πεπαλαγμένον εὐχετάασθαι.
“I dread to sacrifice to the gods with unwashed hands;” how much more should the Christian, to the true God, with an unwashed heart; “for,” says he, “it is not decent or fitting for a warrior, besmeared with blood and dirt, to present his supplication to God.” God has declared himself a jealous God, and will be worshipped in truth: but, as long as we have holiness in our tongue, and sin in our heart, we worship him with a lie: and let none think, (as Jacob did from his father) so from God also, to extort a blessing with a lie. He that under the law, for the most part, was worshipped with the offering of lambs, will, in the gospel-worship, dispense with our bringing them, so we bring their innocence.
To press this duty of sincerity in our worship, we may take these two motives:
1st Motive. By praying to God with insincere, sin-regarding hearts, we incur the certain frustration of all our prayers. And sure, to rational men, that propose to themselves an end in all their actions, it should be some trouble to make long prayers, and to be answered with nothing but disappointment: to offer a sacrifice, like Cain, and for God to have no respect to their sacrifice: Magno conatu nihil agere; in much labour and pains to traffick with heaven for a nothing. This is the end of all hypocritical prayers; they are only empty words, and accordingly they vanish into wind.
2d Motive. In such prayers we are not only certain not to gain a blessing, but also we incur the danger of an heavy curse. He that comes to the wedding without a wedding garment, is not only like to miss of the feast, but also to be cast into a 361prison. If the leprosy of sin cleaves to thy head, God has forbid thee to enter the congregation. If lust lies burning in thy heart, if pride lies swelling in thy bosom, beware and stand off: God has commanded, if any such beast dare approach his holy mountain, that he should be struck through. And he will certainly do it; for he has made ready the sword and arrows of his vengeance for the same purpose. Jacob’s argument to his mother was good, that if his father should discern his fraud, he should not only not gain a blessing, but also bring a curse upon himself, Gen. xxvii. 12. So when an hypocrite makes his false, yet specious addresses to his heavenly Father for a blessing, God may say to him, Thy voice indeed is the voice of an holy Jacob, but thy heart is the heart of a profane Esau; and accordingly he will curse him, and he shall be cursed. And no wonder; for to engage in prayer, while the heart goes a whoring after sin, what is it else, but to delude and mock the great God! And God has said, that he will nut be mocked: he will not endure to have a hypocrite come and affront him to his face; if we pray only in a mockery, God will curse and punish in earnest. If the heart be torn from the body, it becomes a dead body; and the heart, separated from the prayer, makes a dead prayer: and we know, as our Saviour says, God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Better one sigh and broken expression, with sincerity, than the most long, accurate, and elaborate prayer, with hypocrisy. Gratior est qni deorum delubris, puram castamque mentem, quam qui meditatum carmen intulerit. A man that is in conspiracy against his king, and knows that his king understands his conspiracy, 362would he dare come and present with a petition? He that is in love and league with sin, is a traitor and conspirator against God; and, had he the same dread of him that he has of an earthly prince, he would know, that in such a case it is death to come into his presence. When some formal hypocrites set upon this duty, with their eyes turned up, and some forced tears, not having their hearts at all affected with the sense of that which they pretend to; if we consider the vileness of the affront, and the infinite majesty of God that is so affronted, it is an argument of his unconceivable mercy and forbearance, that such are not struck dead in the place.
But, to direct us how to pray with sincerity, I shall only give this rule: before you enter upon prayer, endeavour to prepare your hearts by a thorough and a strict examination. This, if any thing, will clear the coast. Sift yourselves by examining, as Satan does by tempting. Search and shake every corner of your heart. Ransack every passage of your life. Believe it, if any one unmortified lust, one cursed action lies undiscerned, he will trouble the peace of the whole soul. Whosoever therefore is conscious to himself of any regard or love that he bears to his iniquity, and shall yet venture to make an offering of prayer to God; let such an one leave his gift upon the altar, and go and reconcile himself to God, in the blood of Jesus Christ; and first sacrifice his sin, and then come and offer, and the sacrifice of his prayer shall be accepted.
To whom therefore be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.363
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