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wise, and holy, and gracious will, respecting this important affair, must be learned from the doctrines and promises, the precepts and the examples, which are contained in sacred scripture.
If, then, we pray agreeably to these, we shall approach the Father of mercies under our proper character: that is, not as claimants, but as supplicants; or, under a deep conviction of our guilt and our depravity; of our ignorance and unworthiness; and as lying entirely at his mercy. For, God be merciful to me a sinner, stands on divine record, as a prayer that is worthy of imitation. Now a sinner, as such, is an accursed character; or one that deserves damnation.
If we pray as the Scriptures teach, we shall draw near to the King Eternal, with a believing regard to the all-sufficient atonement, and the prevailing intercession, of Jesus Christ. For as it is only through his vicarious obedience, finished on the cross, that our sins are pardoned and our persons justified in the sight of God; so it is only through the intercession of our Great High-Priest, in the heavenly sanctuary, that our prayers ascend with acceptance before the Most High. This we are taught, if I mistake not, by the following remarkable passage. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.* A representation, this, of the ancient Jewish * Rev, viii. 3, 4.
high-priest burning incense upon the golden altar, on the day of atonement, when he entered into the most holy place. For that altar was just at the entrance of it; directly before the mercy-seat, or throne of Jehovah, in the earthly sanctuary; to which the apostle alludes, when he speaks of the throne of grace. This apocalyptic angel, therefore, is our High-Priest: for none else could approach that altar, and burn incense upon it; the smoke of which was to enter the most holy place.
Now, the prayers of all saints, denote the whole worship of the christian church, which is presented before the throne of God, by our heavenly HighPriest. Nor is it said, that the prayers of all saints, but that the smoke of the incense, ascended to God, out of the angel's hand: for it is the intercession of Christ, and that only, which procures their acceptance with God. For, such a mixture of sin, such diversified imperfection, and such personal unworthiness, attend all our devotional services; that we might well despair of their obtaining divine acceptance, were it not for the work and worthiness of our Great High-Priest, who is passed into the heavens, even Jesus the Son of God. But, the allsufficiency of his atonement for sin, purges away the iniquity of our holy things;* the never-failing efficacy of his intercession, gives acceptance to our worship, which, in itself, is very imperfect; and the supreme dignity of his Person, who appears as the representative of his redeemed, delivers the conscience from that painful sense of personal unworthiness, which would not permit our approach, with
*Exod. xxviii. 28.
boldness, to the throne of grace.* These considerations are happily adapted to relieve the conscience, to comfort the heart, and to animate devotion.
If we pray according to the directions of Scripture, it will be with a special regard to the aid of the Holy Spirit; who is expressly called, the Spirit of grace and of supplication:† his assistance being absolutely necessary to a holy Amen. For such is the darkness of our minds, that we know not what we should pray for as we ought:‡ and such is the carnality of our hearts, that we cannot command a devotional frame. Of the want of this divine assistance we shall be the more sensible, in proportion as we remember, that He whom we address-that He who is our God, is a consuming fire. Hence that apostolic precept, Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. Which precept is enforced by this consideration, For our God is a consuming fire.§
Yes, though, under the Christian Economy, the Infinite Object of our adoration do not manifest his peculiar presence by the miraculous appearance of devouring fire; as he did to Moses, in the bush; and to the Israelites, at Mount Sinai; yet those divine properties, his absolute purity, his burning jealousy, and his punishing justice, that were signified by the terrific, fiery emblem, are still the same. For his immutability forbids our supposing, that he is less pure in his nature; less jealous of his honour, in the worship which he requires; or less disposed to execute justice upon trans
* Dr. Owen, On the Person of Christ, chap. xx.
† Zech. xiii. 10.
Rom. viii. 26.
§ Heb. xii. 28, 29.
| Deut. iv. 23, 24. ix. 3.
gressors now, than under the Mosaic Dispensation. It is a great mistake, therefore, for any one to suppose, that when God is denominated a consuming fire, it has regard to sinners, considered merely as destitute of a Mediator: because the application and improvement of that divine character, by the apostle, evidently respects real Christians, equally with others. If, then, we approach the Most Holy with acceptance, it must be through faith in the blood of Jesus: by the aid of the Sacred Spirit; and with profound reverence. For where there is no reverence, there is no devotion. In proportion as we address God, under a divine influence, we shall pray with knowledge and with faith; with liberty and with delight.
This adverbial and expressive term suggests, that, when addressing God according to his revealed will, we should pray with holy fervour. Yes, as by the concluding word Amen, we epitomize all the foregoing requests, it manifestly denotes earnestness in our application to the Fountain of mercies, and the Friend of man. For with what propriety, or to what purpose, do we briefly repeat our petitions, if we be not fervent in prayer-if we be not in earnest with God, to obtain the blessings we supplicate? Without this our Amen loses its emphasis, and becomes a superficial formality, or a mere word of course.
Once more: We are taught, by this expressive and solemnly concluding term, that we should pray with expectation of a gracious audience of the King Eternal. For why do we pray, and why has Jesus taught us to conclude our petitions with an emEph. ii, 18. iii, 12.
phatical So be it, if we have no ground of expectation that God will condescendingly hear, and gra. ciously answer our various requests, by subjoining his own efficacious AMEN?-It is of high importance, my Brethren, in every devotional exercise, that we approach God with expectation. For where there is no expectation of a gracious audience, and of receiving benefits from his liberal hand, there is, either no sense of want, and it is a merely formal service; or it is under a conviction of obligation to adore God, while oppressed with slavish fear: and in each case, the animating principle is wanting; which is faith, operating in the way of expectation.
To the enjoyment of this expectation, however, in drawing near to God, it is necessary that persons be sensible of their spiritual wants, in connection with a view of revealed mercy: for, destitute of that sensibility, they have scarcely any errand at the throne of grace. They may pray, indeed, in their own way: but, not feeling their various necessities, they have no specific objects in view, for which to supplicate the divine Father. Their prayers are by rote, and in compliance with religious custom.-But, in proportion as any one is convinced of his numerous wants, believes in Jesus, and regards the gracious promises, will expectation operate in his daily supplications. Nor is this animating expectation confined to peace of conscience and spiritual joy. No: it will be very much directed to divine communications of spiritual instruction-of necessary reproof-of support under trials-and of sanctifying influence, in its various application to the human heart.