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covered by the light of nature to the heathens. Prayer is the homage due to his eternal greatness, the most glorious acknowledgment of his all-sufficiency; that he is able and willing to relieve our poverty froin his immense treasures, notwithstanding our unworthiness : “ for we are less than the least of his mercies," and deserve the severe inflictions of his justice. * It is the setting our seal to his truth, “ that he is a God hearing prayer. It is very beneficial to us : for it engages us to receive his benefits with adoration and thankfulness, and prepares us to receive new favours; and by our obtaining blessings in this way, we have a more clear and comfortable sense of his love, that gives the sweetest tincture and relish to them.
It is true, prayer is not required to inform God, or to incline him to be gracious; and sometimes from his exuberant goodness he prevents our desires ; but we cannot regularly expect his blessings without the sense of our wants, and prayers to supply them.
Now all blessings are originally from God, but some are immediately from him. As the sun enlightens the world by its presence in the day, and the moon and stars enlighten it in the night, by light borrowed from the sun. “Every good and perfect gift descends from above, from the Father of lights :” Jam. 1. 17. all blessings in the order of nature, the qualities of the body, beauty, strength, health ; or the endowments of the mind, knowledge, wit, eloquence, are his gifts; all temporary talents, riches, power, dignity, are from him, by the mediation of second causes: but there are more precious and perfect gifts that come from him immediately as “the Father of light, sanctifying graces, and spiritual comforts, by the illumination, and infusion of the Holy Spirit.
The first sort of blessings we are not to pray for absolutely, for they may be pernicious, by our abuse of them, to our souls, and are often bestowed upon reprobate sinners. But the other kind, saving graces, deserve our most ardent desires. “ As the hart pants after the water-brooks, Psal. 106. 4. our souls should seek after the favour of God; and sanctifying grace, the infallible testimony and effect of it. We must pray for them unsatisfiedly, not content with any thing else, nor without excellent dehim go
* Qui fingit sacros auro vel marmore vultus, non facit ille Deos, qui rogat, ille fæcit.
grees of them. David breaks out in his ardent desires, “ O that my ways were directed according to thy statutes.” O that my souł may be baptized with the Holy Ghost as with fire, to purify and refine me from all my dross: that as gold taken from a vein of earth, receives such a lustre from the fire, * as if it were the sole product of fire, so my renovation by the spirit may be so entire, that all carnality may be abolished. Our prayers
should be for our perseverance in well-doing. Perseverance is a most free gift of God, a new grace superadded to what we have received, without it we shall forsake God every hour. God promises to give the sanctifying spirit as a permanent principle of holiness in his people, to cause them to walk in his statutes, and declares, “ for this I will be inquired of by the house of Israel. Ezek. 36. 25, 26, 29, 30, 37. We must imitate Jacob, who wrestled with the angel, and would not let
“ till he had blessed him.” This is an emblem of fervent prayer, wherein we strive with the strength and sinews of our souls, and as it were offer violence to the King of heaven to bestow spiritual blessings upon us.
Carnal men are intemperate, greedy and passionate, in their desires of temporal blessings; though reason, religion, and experience of their vanity, should regulate them : they are impatient and insatiable, and will bear no denial nor delay but with regret, and reluctancy. But how remiss and cold are their desires for spiritual and eternal blessings, they invite a denial. Their prayers are defective in the principle, they do not understand the value, and their want of them. Divine grace, the gift of God's saving mercy, the dear purchase of the sufferings of Christ, the precious fruit of his Holy Spirit, are of little price in their estimation. Our Saviour tells the Samaritan woman, as if thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that asks thee, Give me to drink ; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." John 4. 10.
We are encouraged to be earnest and resolved suppliants for the graces of God's Spirit, because we are assured he is most willing to bestow them. Our Saviour sometimes encourages us from the resemblance of a father, who cannot so unnaturalize, and divest himself of tender affections, as to renounce his own offspring, and deny a child necessary food for his subsistence : “ will he give him a stone for bread, or a serpent for a fish? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask it ?” Sometimes he excites us to pray, and not to faint, from the parable of an incompassionate stranger, a judge that was overcome by importunity tỏ afford relief to one in distress. God delights to hear and answer those prayers that are for his best blessings. When Solomon prayed for wisdom to rule his people, God was so pleased, that he gave him wisdom in an eminent degree, and as an accession, riches and honour, If we imitate Solomon in his prayer, we shall have his acceptance. St. James directs us, “ if any man wants wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives liberally, and upbraids no man:” the wisdom to manage afflictions, that may be for his glory, and our spiritual advantage. He gives liberally; which either respects the affection of the giver, or the measure of the gift, or the repeated acts of giving : “ and upbraids not,” neither with their unworthiness, nor the frequency of their addresses. Liberality among men is a costly virtue, and but few have a natural generosity, or christian mercy and means to express and exercise it. The necessities of others do not affect men with so quick a sense, as the parting with their money to relieve them. As the balsam-tree does not drop its healing liquor, till the bark is cut. Sometimes the great number of suitors is a pretence to excuse from the exercise of bounty. None of these can be conceived of God. There is nothing more divine in the Deity, and becoming his nature, than his inclination to do good. As the mother with equal pleasure nourishes the child with her milk, as the child draws it. For the breast is uneasy till emptied. God much more rejoices in doing good, than we in receiving it.
* Nomen terræ in igoi reliquit. Tert.
We are also assured of obtaining spiritual blessings by the intercession of the Mediator. The dignity of his person, who is higher than the heavens, the Son of his love, the merits of his obedience and sufferings, assure us of his power with God. He takes us by the hand, and brings us to the Father, perfumes and presents our request to obtain a favourable reception. When we are under impressions of fear, that God will deny our prayers for spiritual blessings, it is as if there were no love in the Mediator, nor prevalency in his mediation.
Besides, the spirit of holiness is plenteously conveyed under the dispensation of the gospel. The gift of the Spirit, in the richest degrees, was reserved as an honour to Christ in his ascension.
It is said, “ the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The blood of Christ was liberally shed, that the Spirit might be liberally poured forth. But the bestowing of the Spirit, was at the triumphant ascension of Christ. “ Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men:” that is, from the Father, as the reward of his victory, that he might dispense them to men. The principal gift is the Holy Ghost, comprehensive of all good things. The promise is performed under the gospel, “I will pour forth of my Spirit,” the spirit “ of grace and supplication, upon all flesh.” There were some sprinklings of it under the law, and confined to a separate nation, but now showers are poured down upon all nations, to purify them, and make them fruitful in good works. The apostle declares the admirable efficacy of the gospel, “ the law of the Spirit of Life has freed me from the law of sin and death.” Rom. 8. The spirit of the fiery law, so called with respect to its original and operations, convinced of sin, and constrained conscience to inflict tormenting impressions on the soul, the presages of future judgment: but afforded no spiritual grace to obey it. Therefore it is said “ to be weak and unprofitable.” Heb. 7. 18, 19. But the gospel conveys supernatural strength, to obtain supernatural happiness. It is foretold concerning the state of the church in the times of the gospel, “ he that is feeble among them shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them.” Zech. 12. 8. Add farther, the Holy Spirit directs our desires, and “ God knows the mind of the Spirit, who makes intercession for us according to the will of God." Christ is our advocate in heaven, and the Spirit in our hearts, by inflaming our affections, and exciting in us filial trust in the
They that wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength.” If we are impotent in resisting temptations, and in doing the will of God, when divine assistance is ready upon our desires to confirm us, our impotence is voluntary, and does not excuse us from consequent sin, but is an antecedent sin. The sharpest reproof we read from our Saviour to his disciples was for their guilty impotence : “ Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?" He had given them power to heal diseases, and expel evil spirits, but they had not used the means of prayer and fasting, that was requisite for the exercise of that power. How justly do we deserve that stinging reproach, who, notwithstanding the gospel is the ministration of the Spirit, do not by continual fervent prayer apply ourselves to God, to partake of a rich abundance of grace from the Holy Spirit ?
I shall only add, that as prayer is a means to obtain more grace, so by the exercise of grace in prayer it is increased. Frequent prayer has a cleansing virtue, as those who often come into the king's presence to speak to him, are careful to be in decent habits, that they may not be disparaged in his sight; so those who draw near to God, will cleanse themselves from sin, that they may be prepared to appear before his holy majesty. Humility, faith, reverence, love, zeal, resignation to the divine will, compassion to the afflicted, and other excellent graces, are exercised in prayer, as the sphere of their activity, and as acquired habits so infused, are improved by exercise. Frequent shooting not only makes persons more skilful in directing the arrow to the mark, but more able to draw a stronger bow. None are more holy in conversation, than those that give themselves to prayer. Our Saviour prayed himself into heaven, and a divine lustre appeared in his countenance. By our drawing near to God, the beauty of holiness will be impressed upon us, and brighten our conversations. Briefly, according to the raised operations of
grace prayer, we shall obtain more excellent degrees of it from heaven; for in bestowing the first grace, God is a pure giver, but in dispensing new degrees of grace, he is a rewarder, according to the promise, “to him that hath shall be given."
3. Frequent and attentive hearing and reading the word, and serious meditation of it, are means appointed by the divine wisdom and goodness, for our growth in grace. The conception and propagation, the sustaining and increasing the spiritual life, are by the word of truth: it is therefore compared to those things that are the productive and preserving causes of the natural life: it is the incorruptible seed and food, to beget and nourish the spiritual life: it is milk for babes, wine for the faint, and strong