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succeed? Can they miscarry? No! Jesus knows where he may find him and come, even to his seat! He orders my cause before Him, and fills his mouth with arguments. "He ever liveth to make intercession," and the Father heareth him always. Ask your own soul, my brother, whether you have not found more benefit after prayers, fervent and broken, than after those which have flowed with ease, and been followed with self-complacency? And no wonder; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart. We often reject, both in others and ourselves, what God approves; and approve even where God abhors. Our views, even of ourselves, our general characters and particular actions, are, in many instances, superficial and mistaken.
There is something noble in the efforts of a soul "glowing hard after God," through its own darkness, weakness, and sins. Against conscious unworthiness, and the suggestions of Satan. 'Tis a noble struggle! The prize is great, and the consequence of desisting truly degrading and painful. "What various hindrances," &c. Luke xviii., 1, "not faint." Faint! what should induce us to faint? Our sins and unworthiness? Then may all faint, and prayer be at an end; for who is sinless? who is worthy? are our feelings peculiar? How do we know this, unless we know the feelings of others in this case? And how can we know them, unless communicated? And this cannot be. Why? for the same reasons that some of our peculiar feelings are concealed from all mortals. As far as made known, they have a general agreement, which is a presumptive proof, that they agree in what lies hidden. Yes, "heart answers to heart," and our trials are such as are "common to man."
There are reasons why our prayers do not equal our prospects and wishes:
1. Because Satan opposes the resolution to pray, less than prayer itself. And if he thinks the mere resolution will quiet conscience for the present, he will not oppose it at all; nay, perhaps, propose the resolution himself, that the soul may multiply its guilt in breaking it. But if the soul will actually pray; then he finds Satan proposing objects to please and distract; to divert the thoughts from God; or discourage us by suggesting, that our hearts are not sincere, our prayers not fervent, our faith not genuine, and our prayers useless. Or if we find freedom, which may arise from the state of body and mind, connected with a train of pleasing circumstances, he may fill us with proud conceit of our nearness to God, the excellency of our prayers, and proud contempt for the prayers of others which we excel.
2. Our own hearts do not discover their evil, till opposed; then sin becomes active. Like an army contemplating an easy march towards a place, and ample rewards, but find an active and strong resistance on approaching the place, which makes their experience differ from their speculations. Or like a lame man seated in his chair, enjoying a view of a fine garden, rises to walk towards it, and feels his lameness, which he forgets while sitting.
3. Satan may magnify the prospect of prayer, till our imagination realises a heaven of love, devotion and joy, the next time we pray. This he may do, that we may be discouraged by finding our experience so far below our expectations.
4. A believer's aims will always exceed his attainments, in this, and every other duty and his conceptions of the excellence of a privilege, may far exceed his enjoyment of it. His enjoyment may exceed expression, and not equal his conceptions: for this reason, whatever he feels, he sees more before him, and cries out, “I have not attained! but I reach forth to the things that are before!" And as his knowledge and happiness grow, his aims are more enlarged, extensive, elevated, and strong, and strengthened. When I have forgot this distinction, I have thought I had no grace, because my exertions and attainments were not equal. My heart deceives I go to prayer, wishing to pray with perfect devotion, and am discouraged, that my prayer does not answer my wish. It is desirable, but not attainable.
5. Mistaking the nature of prayer. We think of perfect freedom of thought, perfect affection and just expression. Or the most unobstructed thought and propriety of words. Whereas, our thoughts may be confused, and words not at command.
6. A self-righteous spirit. We wish to present requests, which needed no mediator to recommend them. Prayers with a flow, such as must succeed from their own excellency. This spirit is opposite to, and opposed to the whole gospel. We see in our sins and our hearts, the need of a Saviour; but to see our need of the blood of a Saviour, in our duties too, and our very prayers! This is always mortifying to our pride, tears our beautiful robe, and leaves nothing to glory in, but the Lord Jesus." If we are brought nigh" to God, in our condition and relation, by the "blood of Christ; " do we think to draw nigh in sensible communion with God, without this blood? What can introduce us now? Our improved prayers? No, "we have an ADVOCATE," &c. Is Christ beloved of the Father? Are his pleas just? Does God accept them? Are we sure of this? And does the acceptance of a believer's prayers, stand and fall with Christ's intercession? Well then, till Christ forgets himself, or is forgotten by his Father;-till God becomes cold, and deaf to his pleas, I will "come boldly to the throne of grace, in this living way to the Father."
THE operations of the human mind are remarkably variable and deceiving. One moment so miserable, that it fears it shall never be happy again; and the next so happy, that he shall never be miserable more. "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think a good thought, as of ourselves." We may propose it, resolve it, attempt it; but in vain! The matter of our thought may be good, and the reason, manner, and end of it, not so. We often think of God's greatness and justice, with dread, without reverence; his mercy with hope, without life; his goodness, without gratitude; his truth, without faith; his promises, without prayer; his holiness, without imitation; his will, without obedience; and his providence, without resignation. But such thoughts are not "good ones." They are nearer akin to forgetfulness of God, than many are aware. I think upon a spiritual subject-my old thoughts on it occur, without the pleasure, affection, and efficacy. What makes this difference? I have the same object, reflections, desire, and advantages: yea, perhaps, before I had no designed meditation, and yet thought with advantage and pleasure; now I meditate with strong desire and fixed design, but think without either. Then my thoughts seemed settled in delightful contemplation; not only without difficulty, but it would have been difficult to think otherwise. Now I make many efforts, which only prove my present inability "to think a good thought;" and that my former "sufficiency was of God." When a divine sufficiency fills the soul, it thinks with attention and profit. The soul multiplies its thoughts-she dwells with pleasure, works with power, and elevates with rapture; or compose the soul into celestial tranquillity but when our own insufficiency is to be felt, the thoughts are poor, barren, confined, cold, and powerless. At one season we can sing, "My heart is fixed, O God! my heart is fixed! I will sing and give praise." This flow of settled and grateful thoughts springs from a divine agency. At another time, against our aims, prayers, art, and labour, the thoughts shall be confused, wander against resolutions, and settle nowhere. God alone can "gird up the loins of the mind," and enable the believer to "serve the Lord without distraction."
We may exercise evil thoughts about good objects, and good thoughts about evil objects. "What is a good thought?" A good thought is, a thought, just in relation to the object, and suitable in relation to the manner and end. Suppose I think God is supremely
holy-this thought is just in its object. But devils think so too. But if mine is a thought of approbation and delight, wishing to resemble God-this is good in its tendency. This glorifies God, and is becoming man. A believing thought of God's declaration, and admiring thought of his wisdom, an adoring thought of his supremacy, a humble thought of his greatness, a hopeful thought of his mercy, a grateful thought of his goodness, a reverential thought of his justice. The truth appears, 1. In meditation-The soul often revolves some reflection of God, and can say, "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul." But at another time, a soul meditates on the same reflection, and says, "I thought on God and was troubled!" Here creature insufficiency, and divine sufficiency, shine forth. Ah! how often has my meditation been intentionally good, and degenerated, in a short time, into trifling, folly, and sin!
If one good thought a heaven would buy,
If heavenly assistance attends me, "my meditation on him is sweet." If sin is the object of my thoughts, and heavenly influences bless me, I am ashamed and humbled. My esteem of Christ, my desires and prayers, multiply Left to myself, I think of it, partially, am unaffected, unhumbled, unprofited. Stupidity and unconcern attend my reflections. If the love of God is my object, and his spirit blows on my soul, I kindle into desire, affection, delight, and joyful praise. If not, I think till I doubt of my interest in it: and wonder if it can be that a heart so dull, can be the object of God's love, or the subject of love to God. If heaven is my theme, and heavenly power attends me, I am full of joy. "I mount, I fly! as on eagle's wings. I seem borne far above all that is vanity and vexation of spirit. I soar into the "third heavens," and hear the sound of heavenly hallelujahs-join the chorus of angels and saints in light, wonder at my past folly, think, and say, "It is good to be here." But if a divine agency is suspended, the motions of my soul about heaven itself, seem all natural. My understanding seems as dark as night, and my affections cold as frost. Turning my mind to the place of the damned, unaided by divine light and grace, I trifle while I range over brimstone and fire-weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. But should the sufficiency of God aid my soul, I see the smoke of their torments ascending up for ever and ever, my heart swells with grateful sensations; and realising their misery, and my happiness and prospects through distinguishing grace, I cry " Hallelujah!" that I am ever delivered from their misery.
In Prayer-Sometime I feel my heart begins to warm and rise towards God-I long for some secret place. I realise the moment of solitude with pleasure. I think how earnestly I will pour out my sins, sorrows, and joys before God. The time comes-I enter my closet, prostrate my soul, begin; but how great my surprise and grief
to find all spiritual motion seems gone from my heart. My prayers are short, my words mere sounds. I sigh, groan, look up, hide my face in my hands in confusion and disappointment; rise discouraged, and cry, "Lord! what is man." Sometimes this has distressed my mind. I have been afraid, that all my delight in divine things, was a mere speculative pleasure. Such as a natural man might feel in contemplating any of God's works. Natural speculations on spiritual things will afford pleasure, to natural men, in proportion to the greatness and novelty of the objects, and their suitableness to their false views. I am like the captain of a ship, who finding a fair and strong wind rising at the desired quarter, makes hasty preparations for sailing, and finds an unexpected calm. This experience has its use. It teaches me what self-will remains in me. Why should I wish to confine all my choicest moments to the closet? "This divine wind blows where it listeth." If it visits me in the parlour, the field, the study, or the pulpit, let me eagerly welcome the divine gale, and be thankful, shunning whatever would interrupt his saving operations. How unbecoming a creature to say, "Lord, I had rather this visit had been felt in my closet. In every place, time, and manner, where, when, and how God shall think best, may my soul readily say,
Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
In these cold hearts of ours.
Yet I find, that
The divine influence is free and uncontrollable. sometimes he confines his agency to certain minds, and duties, and places. When I lived at Woburn, and had the care of the school from morning till evening upon me, I found, for near a whole summer, remarkable experience of divine condescension and grace. regular as the evening came, the Spirit of the Lord came upon my mind in a powerful and gracious manner. And sometimes I have had such enlargement of soul in meditation and prayer; in the field, in the wood, the school, the bed, that sleep has left my eyes, till one in the morning. I have risen at four, gone boldly to the throne of grace, and found mercy.
There when his spirit touched my soul,
And graced her mean abode;
OH! with what joy and life and love,
If Woburn fields could speak, and you could hear them, they would teach you, "that night after night," conveyed knowledge of the love of God in Christ by the Spirit, to the meanest and unworthiest of souls, that ever dwelt in flesh. One moment I read, then prayed, then sung. "For while I was yet speaking, (compassionate God!) he said, here I am! and before I spoke the desires of my heart," he answered me. I thought, and "my meditation on him