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He said, "There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man; and there was a widow in that city, and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterwards he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 'yet because this woman troubleth me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" It is every day's practice in earthly things, for men to persevere in their requests, and to send in petition after petition, till they obtain their wishes. It is the character of true devotion, that it will not desist from seeking till it gain the desired spiritual blessing. Blind Bartimeus persevering, notwithstanding all discouragements, at length gains his request. Matt. xii, 48. Our Saviour has left us an example of this holy perseverance, when he himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, persevered in repeatedly asking, with the same words, that help which he needed. We ought, then, to pray, with restless importunity and perseverance. The same duty is brought before us in the following parable, Luke xi, 5-10. "Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut; and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall
be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened." How gracious is that merciful Father, who by these examples teaches us to continue praying; and how inexcusable will it be, if, after such encouragement, we do not persevere in asking for his blessing!
10. BE HUMBLED and SELF-ABASED.
This spirit should mark all your prayers. "The foundation of prayer," says Paley, "in all cases, is a sense of want. No man prays in earnest, or to any purpose, for what he does not feel that he wants. Know, then, and feel the weakness of your nature." "The great mistake of prayer," says the Rev. Mr. Adam, "is, not praying as poor and destitute creatures; but thinking that we are and have already in some degree what we pray for." God forgetteth not the cry of the humble. Ps. ix, 12. x, 17. Even when the wicked king Manasseh "humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him;" we read that God was intreated of him. 2 Chron. xxxiii, 12, 13. The Saviour himself says, not my will but thine be done. If one grace more than another has God's special approbation, and is attended with multiplied spiritual advantages, it is that of humility. The humble man, being deeply sensible, of his own need, the more he receives, the more he feels his indigence: he expects all from mere mercy, and pleads nothing, but his own worthlessness and necessity; and, having a broken and contrite spirit, he waits with patience till God have mercy, thinking the smallest blessing above his deserts. Cultivate, then, a spirit of humility. When we pray for any grace, let us be ready to confess our faultiness in that particular, and acknowledge our utter
inability of ourselves to work it in our hearts. Let us remember what an awfully great and holy being He is, and how sinful we are at the best! and how the glorified Spirits veil their faces, fall down and worship before God. Rev. v, 8-14. Many are the advantages of humility; "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." James iv, 10. "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart." Ps. xxxiv, 18. The tears of the penitent avail much with him. When Hezekiah wept sore, 2 Kings xx, 4. his prayer was heard. It is said of the people of God returning to Zion, They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them. Jer. xxxi, 9. The showers of heaven run off the high and steep hills, leaving them dry and barren, while the lowly vallies are saturated with the refreshing rain, and become fruitful. Go to the throne of grace, not in the spirit of the self-conceited Pharisee, fancying yourselves better than others; but in the humility of the publican, crying God be merciful to me a sinner. Bishop Wilkins justly observes, "our most enlarged devotions are nothing worth without the fruit of humble and upright conversation, and with this consequent, our coldest and most restrained prayer may be looked upon as successful." "The high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy, dwells with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit." Isa. Ivii, 15. It is by going in this spirit, relying on the merits, obedience, and intercession of the Saviour, that we shall find acceptance with God. Observe how humble are the prayers of God's servants. See those of Abraham, (Gen. xviii, 27.) Jacob, (Gen. xxviii, 17, 18.) David, (Ps. li.) Job, (xl, 4. xlii, 6.) Isaiah, (vi, 1.) Ezra, (ix, 6.) and even the Lord Jesus Christ, (Heb. v, 7.) We may abase ourselves more than we ought before man, but
we cannot be too humble when we come before God; and the nearer access we have unto his glorious majesty, the more humble we shall be. Let us have grace, then, that we may serve God acceptably, with reverence, and godly fear." Heb. xii, 28.*
In conclusion, we are led to remark, that even a cursory review of these rules is calculated to shew us how defective, in every one of them, our prayers have been, and still are. If we examine our past prayers by them, we may learn the reason why we have derived so little benefit from prayer; we may see more of our fallen condition; and be led to apply, without delay, for an interest in the only atonement for sin, and for that divine strength which alone can enable us to overcome sin, and serve God acceptably.
* Having given the preceding general rules as principally necessary to be attended to, I sum up in a note what might farther be said, by extracting from an old writer the following Rules of Practice.
1. Before Prayer.
Meditate on the promises and presence of God.
Ask his gracious help, and the evidence of his Spirit.
Lay aside all malice, guile, envy, batred, and seek to have thy heart filled with heavenly love.
Remember thy own vileness, and God's awful majesty.
2. In Prayer.
Lift up thy heart with thy hands, and place before thee Christ and his merits.
Watch over thy thoughts.
Recover thyself from distractions, and improve them to thy fur. ther humiliation and watchfulness.
3. After Prayer.
Thank the Lord for any degree of liberty or enlargement,
Mark answers to prayer when God gives thee,
Greater confidence in bis love,
More cheerfulness of spirit,
Grace to persevere in the face of many denials,
A spirit of self-examination and circumspection;
and when he gives thee thy request, let this stir thee up to thank fulness, and quicken thee in his way.
AN EXHORTATION TO CONSTANT PRAYER.
PRAYER being at the root of every other good, marking the commencement of the Christian life, being the pulse by which its strength and vigour may be known, or the hands by which its daily nourishment is obtained and ministered, the reader will bear with me while I attempt still farther to press this duty on the conscience.
There are two things which will ever bring the Christian to the throne of grace:-A sense of his own wants; and a desire to enjoy the presence of God.
God having promised to supply all his wants, his prayers are the importunate wrestlings of the soul with God for blessings of infinite moment. And God being the portion of his soul, he finds in his presence, the sweet and unspeakable repose of the soul on God, his exceeding great reward.
Prayer," says Bishop Taylor, "is the effect and the exercise, the beginning and the promoter, of all graces. A holy life is a continual prayer. Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the rest of our cares, the calm of our tempest."
1. Yet there are many WHO HAVE NEGLECTED PRAYER, and this in all, or at least in some of its branches. Such persons will often be dissatisfied, complaining of others; and though in the midst, perhaps, of abundance of earthly good things; yet would they declare their real state,