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John ix, 31. "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth." Ps. cxlv, Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Jer. xxix, 13. It has been observed, "In our prayers, sincerity is their best art, simplicity their garb, and zeal their gless." It is evident that the mind should devote itself entirely to the solemn exercise, and dismissing all foreign and outward cares, be as far as possible carried above them. How defective, then, are our prayers! how needful our Saviour's intercession! how all important is the aid of his Spirit! Guard also against that sinful sloth and indifference, which is often indulged in, from the vain idea, that, if our intentions be right, any substance or form of prayer will serve. Offer not to God such imperfect sacrifices. Mal. i, 13, 14, It may assist you in ascertaining your sincerity, often to ask yourself questions on your prayers, as did I really desire what I asked ?' &c.
And be not merely sincere; aim also at fervency of desire. "The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much." All the various expressions by which prayer is described in the scriptures, point out to us the sincerity and fervency of true devotion-It is to "call upon the name of the Lord,” (Rom. x, 13,) to "stretch forth the hands to him,” (Job, xi, 13,) to “ follow hard after him," (Ps. Ixiii, 8,) to "take hold of God," (Is. Ixiv, 7,) to "pour out the heart before him," (Ps. Ixii, 8,) as it were to empty all the desires of the soul.-It is to "give the Lord no rest," (Is. lxii 6.) It is "striving in prayers," (Rom. xv, 30,) "always labouring fervently in prayers." (Col. iv, 12.) Now it is evident that expressions of this kind shew that it is not a trifling matter in which we are engaged; they imply the greatest earnestness of spirit. How strong are the expressions of God's
dislike of lukewarmness. Rev. iii, 16. The fervour of devotion will be much promoted by constant perseverance in the performance of this duty. "The chariot wheel is warmed by its own motion." But after all, remember the caution, that though where God inclines the heart fervently to pray, he usually bestows the blessing; yet we are not to draw our hopes of success merely from our fervency, but only from the name of Christ.
9. Be FREQUENT and PERSEVERING. Appoint the most convenient times, and be constant in keeping to them. Let your hours of prayer be duly regulated, and constantly observed. The Apostle exhorts us to the duty of "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance." Undoubtedly our many wants and dangers, and the examples of the Bible, call for daily, regular, constant, and incessant prayer. Undoubtedly also, it requires much patient perseverance, really to maintain the spirit of devotion. Your evil heart, your great spiritual enemy, your old habits, your present ease and indulgence, and perhaps those about you, oppose. But "be not weary in well doing." Grudge not the time which you spend in devotion. It is the most truly profitable way of passing time. Perseverance in prayer will carry away the blessing. Consider the example of the woman of Canaan, who thus gained her desire from our Lord. Matt. xv, 22. This is written for our encouragement. Consider the case of Moses being obliged to hold up his hands in prayer during the whole battle with Amalek. Do you think it presumptuous? nay, it is most pleasing and acceptable to God. The whole scope of one of our Lord's parables is, to teach us that "men ought always to pray and not to faint." Luke xviii, 1.
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
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