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It is evidently with reference to this mercy, that God makes the promise in Isai. xli. 17-19. "When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them; I will open the rivers in high places, and fountains. in the midst of the vallies; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water; I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree, the pine, and the box-tree together." Spiritual waters and rivers are explained by the apostle John, to be the Holy Spirit, (John vii. 37—39.) It is now a time of scarcity of these spiritual waters; there are, as it were, none. If God's people, in this time of great drought, were but made duly sensible of this calamity, and their own emptiness and necessity, and brought earnestly to thirst and cry for needed supplies, God would doubtless soon fulfil this blessed promise. We have another promise much like this, in Psal. cii. 16, 17. "When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory; he will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer." And remarkable are the words. that follow in the next verse, "This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people which shall be created, shall praise the Lord." Which seems to signify, that this promise shall be left on record to encourage some future generation of God's people to pray and cry earnestly for this mercy, to whom he would fulfil the promise, and thereby give them, and great multitudes of others who should be converted through their prayers, occasion to praise his name.
Who knows but that the generation here spoken of may be this present generation? One thing mentioned in the character of that future generation, is certainly true concerning the present, viz. That it is destitute. The church of God is in very low, sorrowful and needy circumstances; and if the next thing there supposed were also verified in us, viz. That we were made sensible of our great calamity, and brought to cry earnestly to God for help, I am persuaded the third would be also verified, viz. That our prayers would be turned into joyful praise, for God's gracious answers of them. It is spoken of as a sign and evidence, that the time to favour Zion is come, when God's servants are brought by their prayerfulness for her restoration, in an eminent manner, to show that they favour her stones and dust; (Ver. 13, 14.) "Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come; for thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof."
God has respect to the prayers of his saints in all his government of the world; as we may observe by the representation made Rev. viii. at the beginning. There we read of seven
angels standing before the throne of God, and receiving of him seven trumpets, at the sounding of which great and mighty changes were to be brought to pass in the world, through many successive ages. But when these angels had received their trumpets, they must stand still, and all must be in silence, not one of them must be allowed to sound till the prayers of the saints are attended to. The angel of the covenant, as a glorious high priest, comes and stands at the altar, with much incense, to offer with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, before the throne; and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascends up with acceptance before God, out of the angel's hand: and then the angels prepare themselves to sound. And God, in the events of every trumpet, remembers those prayers: as appears at last, by the great and glorious things he accomplishes for his church, in the issue of all, in answer to these prayers, in the event of the last trumpet, which brings the glory of the latter days, when these prayers shall be turned into joyful praises. Rev. xi. 15-17. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four-and-twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, we give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art and wast and art to come, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned." Since it is the pleasure of God so to honour his people, as to carry on all the designs of his kingdom in this way, viz.-By the prayers of his saints; this gives us great reason to think, that whenever the time comes that God gives an extraordinary spirit of prayer for the promised advancement of his kingdom on earth--which is God's great aim in all preceding providences, and the main thing that the spirit of prayer in the saints aims at—then the fulfilment of this event is nigh.
God, in wonderful grace, is pleased to represent himself, as it were, at the command of his people with regard to mercies of this nature, so as as to be ready to bestow them whenever they shall earnestly pray for them: Isai. xlv. 11. “ Thus saith the Lord, the holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask of me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me." What God is speaking of in this context, is the restoration of his church, not only a restoration from temporal calamity and an outward captivity by Cyrus; but also a spiritual restoration and advancement, by God's commanding the heavens to "drop down from above, and the skies to pour down righteousness, and causing the earth to open and bring forth salvation, and righteousness to spring up together," ver. 8. God would have his
people ask of him, or enquire of him by earnest prayer, to do this for them; and manifests himself as being at the command of earnest prayers for such a mercy and a reason why God is so ready to hear such prayers is couched in the words, viz.Because it is prayer for his own church, his chosen and beloved people, "his sons and daughters, and the work of his hands;" and he cannot deny any thing that is asked for their comfort and prosperity.
God speaks of himself as standing ready to be gracious to his church, and to appear for its restoration, and only waiting for such an opportunity to bestow this mercy, when he shall hear the cries of his people for it, that he may bestow it in answer to their prayers. Isai. xxx. 18, 19. "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious to thee; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you; for the Lord is a God of judgment: Blessed are all they that wait for him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem. Thou shalt weep no more; he will be very gracious unto thee, at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee." The words imply, that when God once sees his people much engaged in praying for this mercy, it shall be no longer delayed. Christ desires to "hear the voice of his spouse, who is in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs;" in a low and obscure state, driven into secret corners; he only waits for this in order to put an end to her state of affliction, and to cause the "day to break and the shadows to flee away." If he once heard her voice in earnest prayer, he would come swiftly over the mountains of separation between him and her, as a roe, or young hart. (Sol. Song ii. 14, &c.)
When his church is in a low state, and oppressed by her enemies, and cries to him, he will swiftly fly to her relief, as birds fly at the cry of their young; (Isai. xxxi. 5.) Yea, when that glorious day comes, before they call, he will answer them, and while they are yet speaking, he will hear; and in answer to their prayers, he will make the wolf and the lamb feed together, &c. (Isai. lxv. 24, 25.) When the spouse prays for the effusion of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of Christ, by granting the tokens of his spiritual presence in the church, (Cant. iv. 15.) "Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out; let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits;" there seems to be an immediate answer to her prayer, in the next words, in abundant communications of the Spirit, and bestowment of spiritual blessings; "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice: I have eaten my honey-comb with my honey; I have
drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."
Scripture instances and examples of success in prayer give great encouragement to pray for this mercy. Most of the remarkable deliverances and restorations of the church of God, mentioned in the scriptures, were in answer to prayer. For instance, the redemption of the church of God from the Egyptian bondage.* It was in answer to prayer, that the sun stood still over Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Aijalon, and God's people obtained that great victory over their enemies; in which wonderful miracle, God seemed to have some respect to a future more glorious event to be accomplished for the Christian church, in the day of her victory over her enemies, in the latter days: even that event foretold; Isai. xl. 20. “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself."
It was in answer to prayer, that God delivered his church from the mighty hosts of the Assyrians, in Hezekiah's time; which dispensation is a type of the great things God will do for the christian church in the latter days. The restoration of the church of God from the Babylonish captivity, as abundantly appears both by scripture prophecies, and histories, was in answer to extraordinary prayer. This restoration of the Jewish church, after the destruction of Babylon, is evidently a type of the glorious restoration of the christian church, after the destruction of the kingdom of antichrist; which is abundantly spoken of in the revelation of St. John, as the antitype of Babylon. Sampson out of weakness, received strength to pull down Dagon's temple, through prayer. So the people of God, in the latter days, will out of weakness be made strong, and will become the instruments of pulling down the kingdom of Satan by prayer.
The spirit of God was poured out upon Christ himself, in answer to prayer; Luke iii. 21, 22. "Now when all the people were baptised, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptised, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, upon him; and a voice came from heaven, which said, thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased." The spirit descends on the church of Christ the same way, in this respect, that it descended on the head of the church. The greatest effusion of the spirit that ever yet has been, even that which was in the primitive times of the christian church, which began
* Exod. ii. 23. and iii 7. The great restoration of the church in the latter day, is spoken of as resembled by this; as Isai. Ixiv. 1-4-xi 11, 15, 16—xliii. 2, 3, 16-19-li. 10, 11, 15.-lxiii. 11, 12, 13. Zach. 10, 11. Hos. ii. 14, 15. Dan. ix. throughout. Ezra viii. 21, &c.
See Jer. xxix. 10-14. and l. 4, 5.
Neb. i. 4 to the end.-iv. 4, 5. and chap. ix. throughout.
in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, was in answer to extraordinary prayer. When the disciples were gathered together to their Lord, a little before his ascension, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me, i. e. the promise of the Holy Ghost, Acts i. 4. What they had their hearts upon was the restoration of the kingdom of Israel: "Lord," say they, "wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (ver. 6.) And according to Christ's direction, after his ascension they returned to Jerusalem, and continued in united fervent prayer and supplication. It seems they spent their time in it from day to day without ceasing, till the Spirit came down in a wonderful manner upon them; and that work was begun which never ceased, and all the chief nations were converted to christianity. And that glorious deliverance and advancement of the christian church, that was in the days of Constantine the Great, followed the extraordinary cries of the church of God, as the matter is represented, Rev. vi. at the opening of the fifth seal. The church in her suffering state is represented crying with a loud voice, "How long, Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" And the opening of the next seal brings on that mighty revolution, in the days of Constantine, compared to those great changes that shall be at the end of the world.
As there is so great and manifold reason from the word of God, to think that if a spirit of earnest prayer for that great effusion of the Spirit of God which I am speaking of, prevailed in the christian church, the mercy would be soon granted; so those that are engaged in such prayer might well expect the first benefit. God will come to those that are seeking him and waiting for him; Isai. xxv. 9. and xxvi. 8. When Christ came in the flesh, he was first revealed to them who were waiting for the consolation of Israel, and looking for redemption in Jerusalem, Luke i. 25, 38. And in that great outpouring of the spirit that was in the days of the apostles, which was attended with such glorious effects among the Jews and Gentiles, the spirit came down first on those that were engaged in united earnest prayer for it.-A special blessing is promised to them that love and pray for the prosperity of the church of God, Psalm cxxxii. 6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee.