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the same time, from such as are too proud, too indolent, too indifferent, or too worldly-minded, to regard them with serious attention, or to receive them with a grateful or reverential spirit. Until all this can be disproved, the objection will stand for nothing. But this can never be disproved. Reason declares it all as her own decision ; and Revelation places it beyond a cavil, or a doubt. In the Scriptures we are taught expressly, that such is the real system of Infinite wisdom and goodness; and that blessings actually descend only as answers to prayer.
4. It is further objected, that to suppose our prayers sufficiently efficacious to procure blessings for ourselves, and especially for others, indicates vanity and presumption.
If we thought our prayers sufficiently meritorious, in the sight of God, to deserve such blessings, as are bestowed either on our. selves, or on others; there would be some ground for this objec. tion. But when we pray, as an act of obedience to his will, it is obviously unfounded. There can be neither presumption, nor vanity, in believing that God is pleased with obedience, and that he will bless those who obey. God has commanded all men to pray to him. There is no presumption in believing this precept. He has declared, that faithful prayer is pleasing to him. There is no presumption in believing his declaration. He has promised to bless those who thus pray. Without presumption we may rely on his promise.
He has commanded us to pray for all men ; and has promised to answer such prayers, when faithfully presented. In the Scriptures he has recorded numerous instances, in which he has actually answered such prayers by giving blessings to those, for whom they were asked. To obey this command, to confide in this promise, and to receive this testimony, is neither vain, nor presumptuous. The contrary conduct is chargeable with this criminality : for the objector supposes, that God will give him blessings in a way directly opposed to that, in which alone he has encouraged men to expect them.
But further; does not God make one man the instrument of blessings to another; to many; to thousands; to millions; and that in an immense variety of ways? How does it appear, that the heart, the desires, the supplications, of a good man may not be the means of such blessings as truly, as properly, and as often, as his voice, or his hands ? All these blessings come from God. Will not he, who seeth not as man seeth, but looketh on the heart, as willingly regard the virtuous efforts, of which he is there a witness, as those of the hands, or the tongue? How few blessings do we enjoy, in which others have not been more or less instrumental! For our daily food and raiment, nay, for our very being, we are indebted to those, who have lived in every age of time. In the same manner we are now reaping the benefits, flowing from the prayers of good men in all past ages. The salvation of every
Christian is a direct answer to the prayer of Christ. John xvii. 21, 22.
These are all the material objections, usually made against prayer, as a duty of man: I mean, all which are customarily exhibited, as material, by the objectors themselves. If the observations, which have here been made in answer to them, have the same weight in the minds of others, as in my own; it will be seen, that they have no solid basis. Notwithstanding the speciousness which in the eyes of some individuals they have seemed to wear, the encouragements to this duty, mentioned in these discourses, stand altogether unassailed, and possessed of their whole strength. The objectors have conceived erroneously both of the nature, and design, of prayer: and misapprehended the proper influence of the several things, from which they derive their supposed difficulties,
Let every one of my audience, then, go fearlessly, and constantly, to the duty of prayer; and be perfectly assured, that if he prays faithfully, he will not pray in vain. Let him remember, that prayer is a duty, instituted by God; that he cannot but honour his own institution; and that he cannot but be pleased with those, by whom it is obeyed. To pray is to obey God; to please him; to honour him. Those, who honour him, he will honour; while those, who despise him, shall be lightly esteemed. He has set before you every motive to induce you to perform this duty; commands; examples, particularly that of Christ ; promises ; instances of the actual and wonderful efficacy of prayer; and the clearest testimonies of his own approbation. At the same time, while he has taught you, that no blessing is given but in answer to prayer, he has assured you also, that all good, temporal and eternal, descends as its proper answer from Heaven. Nothing has he left untried to persuade you to this duty.
With his good pleasure, all your own interests conspire in urging you to pray. Prayer will make you daily better, wiser, and lovelier in his sight, by cherishing in you those views and emotions, which constitute the character of a good man. It will sooth every tumult of your bosoms; allay your fears ; comfort your sorrows; invigorate your hopes; give you peace in hand, and anticipate glory to come. It will restrain you from sin; strengthen you against temptation ; recall you from wandering; give life and serenity to your consciences; furnish you with clearer views concerning your duty; alarm you concerning your danger; and inspire you with ardour, confidence, and delight, in the Christian course.
In prayer, God will meet you, and commune with you face to face, as a man with his friend. He will lift upon you the light of his reconciled countenance; will put joy and gladness in your hearts ; and will awaken in you the spirit of thanksgiving and the voice of melody. When you pass through the waters he will be with you ;
and through the riders, they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle on you : for he is the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. In an acceptable time he will hear you, and in a day of salvation will he help you. The mountains will, indeed, depart, and the hills be removed: but, if you seek him faithfully, his kindness shall not depart from you, nor his covenant of peace be remoded. Seek, then, the Lord, while he may be found: Call ye upon him, while he is near. When you call, he will answer; and when you cry unto him, he will say, Here I am.
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.-FORMS OF PRAYER.
MATTHEW vi. 9–13.-After this manner, therefore, pray ye. Our Falher, which
art in heaven ; Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be dore in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debls, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation ; but deliver i from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
In the preceding discourse I finished the observations, which I thought it necessary to make concerning the Nature, and Seasons, of Prayer; the Obligations to pray; the Usefulness of prayer; the Encouragements to it; and the Objections against it.
The next subject, which claims our attention in a system of Theology, is Forms of Prayer.
In the first verse of the text, our Saviour directs us to pray, after the manner, begun in that verse, and continued through those which follow. There are two modes, in which this direction may be understood. The first is, that this is a form of prayer, prescribed to us; a form, which, therefore, we are required to use, when we approach to God in this solemn service. Hence it has been considered as a strong proof, that we are required to use a form of prayer, at least in the public worship of God; if not in that which is private. Even the candid and enlightened Paley says, “ The Lord's prayer is a precedent, as well as a pattern, for forms of prayer. Our Lord appears, if not to have prescribed, at least to have authorized, the use of fixed forms, when he complied with the request of a disciple, who said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke xi. 1.
The other mode of construing this direction is this. Christ is supposed to have taught, here, those subjects of prayer, which on all occasions are ils proper subjects ; the Spirit, with which we are to pray, and the simplicity of Style and Manner, with which our thoughts are to be clothed, when we are employed in this duty.
That our Saviour is not, here, to be considered as prescribing a form of prayer to his followers, seems not improbable from a comparison of the text with the context. In the context he directs us not to do our alms before men, but in secret ; when we pray, to en: ter into our closets ; when we fast, not to be of a sad countenance, that we may not appear unto men to fast; and not to lay up for ourselves treasures upon earth. None of these passages is, I apprehend, to be understood in the absolute, or literal sense. We
may give alms before others. It is our duty to give bread to a starving man in the sight of our families. Nay, it is often our duty to contribute publicly to public charities. We are warranted, and required, to pray, and to fast, before others; and commanded to provide for our own, especially for those of our own households. As none of these assertions will be disputed; they demand no proof. I shall only observe therefore, that the object of our Saviour in these precepts, was to forbid ostentation, and covetousness; and to establish a sincere, humble, self-denying temper in our minds.
As these directions, which are unambiguously expressed, are evidently not to be construed in the literal sense ; there is no small reason, from analogy, to believe, that the direction in the text, which is plainly ambiguous, and indefinite, ought also not be construed in this manner. There is, to say the least, as little reason to suppose, that our Saviour has here directed us to use this form of prayer, as that he has required us to do alms, pray, and fast, only in secret; and not to lay up property for the exigencies of a future day.
This presumption is, I think, changed into a certainty by the following arguments.
1. According to this scheme, we are required always to use this form, and no other.
The words, After this manner pray ye, if understood literally, plainly require, that we always pray in this manner; and therefore, in no other. If they require us to use this form ; they require us always to use it. But this will not be admitted by those who hold the opinion, against which I contend.
2. When our Saviour gives directions to his disciples, at another time, to pray after this manner; he uses several variations from the form, which is here given.
In Luke xi. 2, &c. our Saviour recites, in substance, the form of prayer, which is contained in the text; and adopts no less than ten variations. These, He, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for eder, adopted unquestionably with design. Of this design, it was not improbably a part to teach us, that mere words are matters of such indifference, as at any time to be altered, with propriety, in whatever manner the occasion may require.
One of the variations, used by our Saviour in this place, is the omission of the doxology. I am aware, that this is also omitted by a considerable number of manuscripts, in the text. But the authority for the admission of it is such, as to have determined in its favour almost all critics, and given it a place, so far as I know, in almost every Bible. It is, therefore, to be considered as a genuine part of this prayer of our Saviour. This shows, that the substance even of this prayer may without impropriety be varied, in one part, or another ; as the particular occasion may demand, or allow. Vol. IV.