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guishing under troubles, is more eligible than the best estate of a sinner, when triumphing in prosperity.
Direct. 7. Lastly, frequent and fervent prayer to the “ Father of mercies, and God of all consolation," is a blessed means to support the spirit, and make it humble and obedient to the afflicting providence of God. It is divine counsel, “ is any afflicted, let him pray,” It is prayer opens the heart, and carnal grief breathes out; prayer opens heaven, and divine joy flows into the soul; the King of glory keeps no state, there is always easy access to his throne, and his ears are always open to his humble suppliants. His most gracious nature inclines him to sustain us in our dejections. We have a powerful plea from his compassions to encourage our prayers in great troubles. “ He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer." The most glorious attribute of the Spirit, “the Comforter," is most useful and beneficial to afflicted suppliants : affliction is the season, and prayer the sphere of his activity. That our prayers may prevail, these following rules must be observed.
(1.) They must be addressed with an 'humble trust on the mercies of God, that incline him to relieve and sustain the afflicted. Thus St. James directs the afflicted, “ to ask in faith, nothing wavering." Jam. 1. 6. We read in scripture of his bowels, the light of his countenance, his melting eye, the soft, serene, compassionate expresses of his most gracious nature towards his suffering people. He doth not esteem himself more honoured with the glorious titles of our Creator and King, than with the amiable endearing name of our father ; and with a confidence becoming that relation, we are directed by his divine Son to make our requests to him. It is recorded of Augustus * the emperor, that when one presented a petition to him in a timorous and shy manner, that generous prince, whose humanity was equal to his dignity, was moved with displeasure, as if it had been a tacit reproach that he was of an untractable fierve nature. Thus it is a disparagement of God's benignity and clemency, when we pray to him in a diffident manner : he is more pleased in doing of us good, than we can be in receiving it. Indeed, if the promises of God did not encourage our hopes, we should not presume so much of his affection, as to lay the burden of our cares and sorrows on his arms; but heaven is not fuller of stars to enlighten the darkness of the night, than the seripture is of precious promises for the refreshing the disconsolate. When the church complained, “ the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me:" Isa. 49. 14, 15, 16. what assurance does he give of his most tender and unchangeable love to her; “ can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb ? yea, they may forget, yet will b not forget thee. Behold I have graven thee upon the palme of my hands :" if he cannot forget himself, he cannot forget his people. It is his dear title, “ God that comforts those who are cast down." 2 Cor. 7. · Add to this, the interest of the saints in Jesus Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for them. None is more tenderly inclined to mercy, than he that has suffered misery: and he felt our sorrows, that he might afford relief and succour to us. Whilst our Saviour' was upon the earth, and was followed by a multitude of diseased miserable persons, virtue went out of him, and healed them all : and since his ascent to heaven, has he withdrawn that universal healing virtue, and left us under irremediable and unmitigable sorrows? Did his compassionate eye regard all that were afflicted, and are we now out of his sight? Then such was his indulgent humility, that although he could have performed the cure by a word, yet he readily offered to attend a sick servant; “ I will come and heal him:” and now he is raised from his humble state on earth to the throne of heaven, does he disdain to extend his merciful hand for our relief ? No, his heart and love is the same in heaven as upon the earth. It is true, he is exempted from all passionate frailties, all afflicting affections that are inconsistent with the felicity and glory of his kingdom : but he still retains the same solid love, the same godlike compassion, the same ready will to support and deliver his people in misery. Nay, if the change of his state could have made any in him, it could be no other than what is recorded to the immortal honour of Vespasian, * by one that had experience of his royal
* Videris obolum porrigere eleplianti. Macrob.
bounty; that the raising him to the imperial throne made no alteration in his breast, but that his power was enlarged equal to his will of doing good. Our Saviour in his exaltation at the right hand of God, has all power, equal to his infinite love, that is suitable to the permanent relation between him and the saints: he is their head, and they his members : and was there ever such a miracle, or rather monster in nature, that the head the most eminent part, the seat of all the senses, did not resent a wound made in the foot the lowest and most servile part of the body? Does it not presently express its real complaints ? For the natural union of the parts communicates the sense of the pain suffered by any to the whole. And such is the spiritual union between the divine head and his members, that from heaven he rebuked the cruel persecutor of the saints, in language expressing the union of charity between himself and them: “ Saul, why persecutest thou me?” * He does not say, why persecutest thou my saints, why my servants, but " why me?” Though he is not capable of any sorrowful sense, yet his affections are quick and vigorous to his people. If it were possible that his joy, wherewith he is infinitely blessed, should be increased, it would be in the effusions of his goodness to afflicted christians, “ let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” How heavy soever the calamities are, let them not sink our spirits into despair, but raise them to nearer approaches to the God of consolation.
(2.) The prayers of the afflicted must be always with submissive deference to the will and wisdom of God, as to the manner, the degrees, and time of his delivering them. Afflictions are not peremptory and immutable dispensations, but conditional, for holy and good ends, and we may humbly pray for their removal. It is no resisting of providence, to address to the divine majesty with frequent and fervent requests, that he would please to take his chastising hand off from us. Upon David's humble prayer, the destroying angel was commanded to cease; in the midst of judgment mercy interposed, “ it is enough.” But, we are apt to be impatient in our troubles, and by hasty impetuous desires of ease and deliverance, disturb our tranquillity and offend God.
* Non dicit quid sanctos meos, quid servos meos, sed quid me perseque
As those who are diseased with a rheumatism, being worse in the night than the day, impatiently long for the rising sun to dispel the oppressing humours, and cheer their spirits : so in our afflictions we impatiently renew our requests, “ Lord, how long ? Lord, make haste;" not reposing ourselves on his wisdom and goodness, who will do what is best for us. God is both our father and physician, and when the corrupt humours are purged away, will give cordials and restoratives to his afflicted children. The prophet tells us, “ he that believes, makes not haste;" he doth not by undue means seek to remedy his evils, nor passionately and unquietly solicit the accomplishment of the promises, before the season appointed by the divine decree : for: that is to desire that his mercy should be displayed to the prejudice of his immutability; but humbly waits God's pleasure.
(3.) Let the main desires of the afflicted be for divine, grace, (which is never more necessary and useful than in troubles) that they may glorify God, and obtain their eminent end, the salvation of their souls by them. We are often very ardent in our prayers for trivial things, neglecting the most necessary and important. As if a prisoner loaded with irons should passionately entreat, that his chains should be gilded, not loosed. How many spend their zealous affections in praying for temporal things, wherein their happiness does not consist. One of the reasons why God heaps upon rebellious sinners the good things of this life, is to instruct us how despicable they are in his account, things to be thrown away, as he seems to do. And he often refuses the petitions of his servants concerning temporal things. * When Pelopidas interceded with Epaminondas the wise governor of the Thebans, for the freedom of a base fellow that for some crime was committed to prison, he denied his request; and presently released him upon the desire of a vile harlot: and gave this reason, it was a favour not worthy the dignity of Pelopidas, but suitable to the quality of such a petitioner.
And sometimes we pray for things dangerous and hurtful to our souls; and it is becoming the providence and love of our heaven ly father, to deny our ill-counselled desires. Let us therefore be more intent and importunate in our petitions, that our afflictions may be rather sanctified than removed. We have neither understanding nor strength, how to order ourselves, how to bear and improve great afflictions. St. Paul declares, “ I have learned in every condition to be content.” By the revelation of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit's teaching that all his earthly troubles should end in the heavenly glory, he was instructed in that science of the saints. We are therefore directed, “ if any man want wisdom," that is, how to manage himself patiently under afflictions, “ let him ask it of God, who gives to all liberally and upbraids not.” Jam. 1. If afflictions are sore and sudden, it is very hard to compose and support the spirit. The passions are servants of sense, rather than obedient to reason, and by their first violent motions surprise the mind, and overcome it before it perceives the assault; he that is not a master, is a slave to them. Or suppose no angry resistance, no impetuous passions in the afflicted breast, yet the heart bleeds inwardly, and faints away. David had natural courage to encounter a lion, yet he was so disconsolate in his troubles, that he was fain to argue against his sadness; “ why art thou cast down, O my soul ? why art thou disquieted within me?" Psal. 42. And having raised his drooping spirits, yet he relapsed to his first faintness, till by supplies from God he was confirmed in hope of deliverance. The apostle implores the glorious power of God, that the Colossians might be “ strengthened with all might, unto all patience, and long-suffering with joyfulness.” Col. 1. We should sink under heavy sufferings or be tired with the length of miseries, without his immortal strength. But if the power of God assist a weak spirit, it will be finally victorious over all the evils of the world. How many martyrs of the tender sex, who would 'naturally tremble at a drawn sword, yet by divine support despised the tormentors, and all the instruments of cruelty? In them was an imitation of that miracle of divine power, when the three children walked in the midst of the flaming furnace, untouched by the fire. God is styled “ the God of patience and consolation.” It is his sole prerogative to comfort the afflicted: “ 1, even I, am he that comforts you.” The woman in the gospel, 'that had a bloody issue, no human art could afford her aid and relief: and when her estate was wasted on the physicians, and her strength by her disease, she came to our Saviour and by touching the hem of his garment was presently healed.
* Non audit Deus nisi quod dignum ducit suis beneficiis.. Arab.