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inspire us with unchangeable resolutions to endeavour the obtaining it. I will consider the dignity and happiness of this relation.
1. The dignity. Secular nobility that is transfused from the veins of progenitors into the veins of their progeny, derives its lustre from flesh and blood; " and the glory of the flesh is like the flower of the grass," so despicably mean and fading. A family that is distinguished by an illustrious lineage, if not qualified with internal virtuous dispositions becoming their extraction, is of no value, but in the vain fancies of men: but the relation to God as our Father, confers an honour substantial and durable, in comparison whereof all the magnificent titles in this world are but shadows, and smoke, and dreams. We are in a state of union with the incarnate Son of God, and in that respect dignified above the angels; "for their Lord is our brother." We are made partakers of the life and likeness of God, and heirs of his kingdom. This dignity is truly divine, and of more value than sovereignty over the principalities and powers of darkness. Our Saviour speaks to his disciples, "in this rejoice not, that spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
2. The happiness of this relation will appear in the privileges that are consequent and comprehensive of all blessings.
(1.) The title of a son has annexed to it the promise of the pardon of sin. This is declared by God himself, "I will spare them as a father spares his son that serves him." Mal. 3. 7. There are spots in the best of God's children. It is equally impossible, there should be absolutely pure virtues in the state of grace, as unmixed elements in the state of nature: but our frailties lamented and striven against, rather move his compassion, than severe displeasure. Sins of a heinous nature presumptuously committed, retracted by repentance, are not excepted from his pardoning mercy. Of this there is the most comfortable assurance in David's case: for after his complicated sin, when he was melted in tears of contrition, God sealed his pardon, and sent the notice of it by Nathan the prophet. God was so entirely reconciled to him, that after his death he gave this testimony of him," that David did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and turned not from any thing that he commanded
him, all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah:" he would not name that sin of so high a provocation.
The pardon of sin is attended with all the most excellent blessings, the testimonies of his favour. Guilt seals the fountain, and stops the current of mercies; it exposes us to the terrors of the Lord. If sin be pardoned, peace of conscience is a rainbow of tranquillity in the storms of outward evils. If guilt be not abolished, a sinner in the most shining prosperity, has fearful darkness within.
(2.) This relation gives us an adoptive freedom, and joyful access to God in prayer. God, upon his throne of glory, or his throne of judgment, strikes us with terror; but upon the throne of grace, as our Father, invites our addresses. The apostle encourages us to come with boldness to the throne of grace, or grace upon the throne, dispensing grace and mercy in time of need." We stand in need of mercy to pardon, and grace to preserve us from sin, of counsel and comfort in our various exigences, and our heavenly Father is able and ready to grant our requests.
It is the law of heaven, that blessings are to be obtained by prayer; for that is the homage due to God's eternal greatness; it is the acknowledgment of his all-sufficiency, that he can supply all our wants, satisfy our desires, allay our sorrows, subdue our fears; it is the glorifying his mercy that inclines him to relieve the miserable and unworthy of his benefits. The whole Trinity affords encouragement to our faith in humble prayer. The mercy of the Father who receives them, the merits of the Son who presents them, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit who indites them. If we come jealous as strangers, or fearful as slaves, and not with a filial freedom and reliance, we disparage his love and power. A regular trust of benignity in the giver, and distant from all presumption of merits in the receiver, is very honourable to God, and beneficial to us. Our Saviour confirms our hope by a powerful argument; "if you that are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him ?" The deduction is with convincing force and evidence: if the natural love of a father be so deeply planted in his heart, that it is prodigious if any deny necessary support to their children; can you suspect that God will not supply the wants of his children?
An earthly parent may be unnatural, or unable to relieve a child; but in our heavenly Father, love and power are truly infinite. The steadfast belief of this, is the sovereign cure of piercing cares, the great composer of our distracted passions. It is the apostle's counsel, "be in nothing careful, but let your requests be made known with thanksgiving, and the peace of God that passes understanding, shall keep your hearts." There is no blessing so great, no evil so small, but we may pray in faith to God, to bestow the one, and remove the other. Invaluable privilege! he protects them from dangers, relieves them in their troubles, and releases them out of troubles: His eye is intent upon the righteous; his ear is open, and inclined to hear their cry; his hand is as ready as powerful to deliver them from death: David saith, "I have set the Lord always before me: he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." * In all his combats, God appeared as his second: when his dangers were extreme," the sorrows of death encompassed him," he dispatches a prayer to heaven for speedy relief, and God appeared in arms for his defence.
I shall add for our direction and comfort, † that the love and providence of God is often as visible to the enlightened mind, in denying some petitions of his children, as in granting others. Sometimes they pray for temporal things, unbecoming their alliance with God, and their interest in his special favour. It is recorded of that wise Theban, Epaminondas, that when a friend, greatly in his esteem, requested his favour to release a mean fellow, imprisoned for a crime, he denied him; and afterward released him at the desire of a despicable person; and gave this reason, that was not a favour in proportion to the dignity of Pelopidas, but suitable to the quality of the other petitioner.' Thus the children of this world," who believe no other happiness, but the enjoyment of temporal things, sometimes obtain their desires; "but the children of light" are not heard in their prayers for them; they being unsuitable to their heavenly dignity, and not the sure signs of God's favour.
Sometimes, by mistakes, they pray for things prejudicial to
* Magnum spectaculum videre Deum armatum prote. Aug. Ps. 34.
+ Et cum oras, magna ora, id est, ea quæ sunt æterna, non quæ caduca: ista oratio ad Deum non pervenit, non audit Deus, nisi quod dignum ducit suis beneficiis, Amb.
their salvation; and it would be a severe judgment if God should bestow them. We read of the possessed person in the gospel, "that the evil spirit made use of his tongue to request our Saviour, that he would not torment him," that is, not expel him from his habitation. Thus the carnal part, incensed by the tempter, is often clamorous to obtain as a benefit, that which would be hurtful to the soul, and God is merciful in the denial. We know not what to ask, but our heavenly Father knows what to give.
Sometimes God bestows equivalent or better blessings than what his children pray for. If God gives contentment with poverty, it is equivalent to riches; if patience with sickness, it is better than health; if eternal life in heaven, it is infinitely better than a long life on earth. He did not preserve the martyrs from the flames, * nor forsake them in the flames, but in those fiery chariots conveyed them to heaven.
Briefly, God never denies or delays to grant the petitions of his children, but for a greater good to them: he always hears their main desires; that is, he bestows such blessings as are most conducible for his glory, and their good. This is the principal petition of the saints, in conformity to Christ in his exigency; "he prayed to be saved from the approaching hour of his terrible sufferings;" but subordinately to a higher request," Father, glorify thy name."
Lastly, The relation of children to God, is not an empty title, but includes an interest in the eternal inheritance. The apostle infers, "if sons, then heirs, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ." The sons of earthly parents cannot all inherit; the eldest is the heir to maintain the splendour and state of the family; and the younger have often but thin provision. If a kingdom be the inheritance, it is appropriated to one: the throne is incommunicable. When Pharaoh made Joseph viceroy of Egypt, he reserved the throne to himself: "in the throne I will be greater than thou." But all the saints are kings. Our Saviour comforts his disciples," fear not little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom:" and his power is equal to his pleasure. They are the children of the King and kingdom of heaven. "The kingdom," with a note of excellency; in com
Martyres non eripuit, nunquid deseruit?
parison of it, all the kingdoms of this world in their blazing glory are but a faint figure and a foil. Transcendent privilege! Infinite bounty! All the conceptions we can form of happiness are eminently in God. He is the glory, the joy, the perfection, the satisfaction of intelligent creatures. He alone can fill the capacity of comprehensive immortal spirits. He is their eternal and entire inheritance, possessed equally by all, without diminution to any. As the light of the world is enjoyed by all without prejudice to any according to the apostle's expression, "the inheritance of the saints in light." The eternal enjoyment of God, excludes all fears of losing it: there is a perpetual security from all change and separation and excludes all possible desires of a better state. Without divine revelation we could never have had any discovery of this supernatural blesseduess. The apostle prays for the Ephesians, that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, would give unto them the spirit of wisdom and revelation, in the knowledge of him, the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, that they may know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." God is infinitely rich in his perfections, in mercy, in wisdom and power; and as the father said to his son in the gospel, "son, all that I have is thine;" so all his attributes are exercised for the happiness of his children.
The difference is observable between an earthly inheritance, and the heavenly. For estates and honours, conveyed by descent, are not possessed till the death of the fathers; but we partake of the heavenly inheritance, because our Father lives: and we must die that we may enjoy it: "for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. What manner of love is it, that we should be the sons of God?" When Pharaoh's daughter compassionately preserved Moses, an exposed infant, and adopted him to be her son, it was rare and wonderful goodness. The privilege was so high, that the self-denial of Moses is recorded with this illustrious proof of it, that " he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." But she had no son of her own. Adoption is a legal supply for the want of natural progeny. But God had an eternal Son the heir of his love and glory, the adequate object of his complacency, yet he raised us to so near an alliance. Men adopt sons for their support and comfort, and usually those in whom some praiseworthy qualities appear. God