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my fathers were.] What is this life we cleave so fast to, and are so uneasy to hear of parting with; what is it but a trance, and a succession of sorrows, a weary tossing and tottering upon the waves of vanity and misery? No estate or course of life is exempted from the causes of this complaint; the poorer and meaner sort are troubled with wants, and the richer with the care of what they have, and sometimes with the loss of it; and the middle sort betwixt the two, they partake, in common, of the vexations of both, for their life is spent in care for keeping what they have, and in turmoil for purchasing more. Besides a world of miseries and evils that are incident equally to all sorts of men, such as sickness and pain of body, which is both a sharp affliction, and sit close to a man, and which he is least able, either by strength of mind, or by any art or rule, to bear; and this guest does as oft haunt palaces as poor cottages; as many groans of sick and diseased bodies within silken curtains as in the meanest lodging. Neither does godliness exempt the best of men from the sufferings of this life. David, who was both a great man and a good man, did share deeply in these; so that his conclusion still holds true; no instance can be found to infringe it; Surely every man is altogether vanity.
It remains only to inquire, what manner of men they are who are furnished with the best helps, and with the most comfortable mitigations of their trouble, and with the strongest additions of support and strength to bear them up under it? . And it will certainly be found that godliness alone hath this advantage. And among the many consolations godly men have under their trouble, this is one, and the chief one, their recourse unto prayer. So here, and Psal. cxlii. 4, 5. Hezekiah turned his face towards the wall; he turns his back on all worldly councils and vain helps, and betakes himself to prayer; and prayer brings ease and support, and seasonable deliverance to the godly man; but their
h Isa. xxxviii. 2.
sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after other gods'; and this all ungodly men do when they are afflicted; they run to other imaginary helps of their own, and they prove but the multipliers of sorrows, and add to their torment: They are miserable or troublesome comforters ; like unskilful physicians, that add to the patient's pain, by nauseous, ill chosen, and, it may be, pernicious drugs.
Now, in this prayer of David, we find three things, which are the chief qualifications of all acceptable prayers: the first is, humility. He humbly confesses his sins, and his own weakness and worthless
We are not to put on a stoical flinty kind of spirit under our afflictions, that so we may seem to shun womanish repinings and complaints, lest we run into the other evil, of despising the hand of God, but we are to humble our proud hearts, and break our unruly passions. There is something of this in the nature of affliction itself; as in the daytime men are abroad, but the night draws them home, so in the day of prosperity men run out after vanities and pleasures, and when the dark night of affliction comes, then men should come home, and wisely lay the matter to heart. It is meet we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. It is meet to say unto him, as Job, xxxiv. 31. I have been chastised, or have borne chastisement, and I will not offend any more : That is a kind of language that makes the rod fall out of his hand; that prayer ascends highest that comes from the lowest depth of an humbled heart. But God resists the proud, he proclaims himself an enemy to pride and stiffness of spirit, but his grace seeks the humble heart, as water does the low ground.
If an holy heart be the temple of God, and therefore an house of prayer, certainly when it is framed and builded for such, the foundation of that temple is laid in deep humility, otherwise no prayers that are offered up in it have the smell of pleasing incense to him.
i Psal. xvi. 4.
The second qualification of this prayer is, fervency and importunity, which appears in the elegant gradation of the words, hear my prayer, my words; if not that, yet, give ear to my cry, which is louder; and if that prevail not, yet, hold not thy peace at my tears, which is the loudest of all: So David, elsewhere, calls it the voice of his weeping. Though this gift of tears doth often flow from the natural temper, yet where that temper becomes spiritual and religious, it proves a singular instrument of repentance and prayer. But yet there may be a very great height of piety and godly affections where tears are wanting; yea, this defect may proceed from a singular sublimity of religion in their souls, being acted more in the upper region of the intellectual mind, and so not communicating much with the lower affections, or these expressions of them. We are not to judge of our spiritual proficiency by the gift of prayer, for the heart
be very spiritually affected, where there is no readiness or yolubility of words; the sure measure of our growth is to be had from our holiness, which stands in this, to see how our hearts are crucified to the world, and how we are possessed with the love of God, and with ardent longings after union with him, and dwelling in his presence hereafter, and in being conformed to his will here.
It is the greatest folly imaginable in some to shed tears for their sins, and within a little while to return to them again; they think there is some kind of absolution in this way of easy venting themselves by tears in prayer, and when a new temptation returns, they easily yield to it. This is lightness and foolishness, like the inconstancy of a woman, who entertains new lovers in her mourning apparel, having expressed much sorrow and grief for her former husband.
Now, fervency in prayer hath in it, 1st, Atten, tiveness of mind. If the mind be not present, it is impossible that much of the heart and affections can be there. How shall we think that God shall hear these prayers which we do not hear ourselves ? And shall we think them worthy of his acceptance, that are not worthy of our thoughts? Yet we should not leave off prayer-because of the wanderings of our hearts in it, for that is the very design of the devil, but still we must continue in it, and amend this fault as much as we can; by remembering, in the entry, with whom we have to do, by freeing our minds as much as may be from the entanglements and multiplicity of business, and by labouring to have our thoughts often in heaven; for where the heart is much, it will be ever and anon turning thitherward, without any difficulty.
2dly, Fervency of prayer hath in it an intense bent of the affections, to have our desires as ardent as can be for the pardon of sin, for the mortifying our lusts and passions, for the delivering us from the love of ourselves and this present world; and for such spiritual things to pray often, and to follow it with importunity, that is, to pray fervently, never to rest till an answer come.
The third qualification is faithk; He who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of all that diligently seek him. And certainly, as he that comes to God must believe this, so he that believes this cannot but come to God; and if he be not presently answered, he that believes makes no haste, he resolves patiently to wait for the Lord, and to go to no other.
Surely there is much to be had in prayer, all good may be obtained, and all evil averted by it, yea, it is a reward to itself. It is the greatest dignity of the creature to be admitted to converse with God; and certainly the soul that is much in prayer, grows in purity, and is raised by prayer to the despising of all these things that the world admires, and is in love with, and by a wonderful way is conformed to the likeness of God.
For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.] In the law, God recom
Heb. xi. 6,
mends strangers to the care and compassion of his people: Now David returns the argument to him, to persuade him to deal kindly with him; for I am a stranger with thee, that is, before thee,“ in this world wherein thou hast appointed me to sojourn a few days, and I betake myself to thy protection in this strange country; I seek shelter under the shadow of thy wings, therefore have compassion upon me.” He that looks on himself as a stranger, and is sensible of the darkness both round about him in this wilderness, and also within him, he will often put up that request with David", I am a stranger on this earth ; hide not thy commandments from me; do not let me lose my way. And as we should use this argument to persuade God to look down upon us, so likewise to persuade ourselves to send up our hearts and desires to him. What is the joy of our life, but the thoughts of that other life, our home, before us? And, certainly, he that lives much in these thoughts, set him where you will here, he is not much pleased nor displeased; but if his Father call him home, that word gives him his heart's desire.
LECTURE VI. Ver. 13. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I
go hence, and be no more.
Why is it that we do not extremely hate that which we so desperately love, sin? For the deformity of itself is unspeakable; and, besides, it is the cause of all our woes ; Sin hath opened the sluices, and lets in all the deluges of sorrows, which makes the life of poor man nothing else but vanity and misery; so that the meanest orator in the world may be eloquent enough on that subject. What is our life, but a continual succession of many deaths ? Though we should say nothing of all the bitternesses and vexations that are hatched under the sweetest pleasures in the world, this one thing is
k Psal. cxix. 19.