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that we have that express and immediate warrant and encouragement from God, to offer up our prayers to him, which he has given us by holy men, his prophets ; and last of all by our Saviour Christ.
For it is a fact of great notoriety, that a devout disposition, nourished and kept up by frequent acts of prayer to God, has been seldom found but among those who have had, or who acknowledge the benefit of, a divine revelation.
And in that part of our Lord's divine sermon which is before us, he is giving some cautions to his followers concerning this duty, and directing them how to perform it in the way most acceptable to God and useful to themselves.
After severely condemning many in those days, who, by their sanctified outward
appearance of great devotion, sought to impose on the world that they were better and more to be trusted than others, to serve their private ends of gain and ambition ; the words before us are a caution to those who imposed upon themselves, that they were religious, on account of the frequency and length of their prayers, or who thought so meanly of their Maker,
as if he, the all-knowing God, wanted to be told often of their case, lest he should forget it.
Our Lord probably alludes to those unmeaning repetitions of the heathens in their prayers, of which you have an example (1 Kings, xviii.) where “the priests of Baal called upon their God from morning even until noon, O Baal, hear us:" for which Elijah well derided them; that they supposed their god must be dull of hearing, or asleep, that they were forced to call upon him so often.
We have some remains of the hymns of the heathens, in honour of their false gods, composed by the politest writers of Greece, in their most enlightened times, which contain little but a tedious list of the various names by which they were celebrated, and a recital of their exploits.
Who that compares these with the hymns in the sacred writings of the Old Testament, in the earliest and most unpolished ages, and observes the just and rational sentiments of God, his unity and perfections, and the pure and sublime sentiments of piety which they contain, unequalled since by any human composition; but must own that they plainly point out the source whence the writers of the latter
drew their superior knowledge? Our doctrine and knowledge as Christians is not ours, but his that sent us.
It has happened very singularly, that the reason here assigned by our Lord, why such a tiresome heathenish reiteration of the same request to Almighty God was unnecessary, has been by some turned into an argument against praying to God at all; viz. that it is needless and improper to trouble him with petitions for the supply of our wants, because he knoweth our whole state and case before-hand, and is also of himself, of his own accord, disposed to do us good :-"Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask himn."
But although, with respect to our Maker himself, our prayers and thanks to him are not needed for any information or satisfaction that he can derive from them, they are in the highest degree serviceable to ourselves, and therefore are fitly and most kindly enjoined by him that seeks our good.
For due regards to that first and great relation of all, to him that made, preserves, and supports us, are not only suitable, and becoming every rational mind, but also essential to our true happiness. For without right views
of God, and cultivating proper dispositions towards him, of which prayer is the necessary instrument, the best and noblest part of our frame loses its object; we are deprived of that conimunion and intercourse with the supreme, all-perfect mind and righteous gou vernor of the world, which is needful to form our own characters to piety, virtue and goodness, and is a never-failing source of the purest joy to us.
Now every thing in us, good or bad, is the effect of habit. To keep up a due sense of God, it is necessary to think of him frequently, to bring him, his goodness, his greatness, fresh to our minds. And this is done most effectually in prayer, which puts us into his presence, and realizes him as it were to us. · And the benefits of such an habitual temper of devotion, of which we are next to speak, are unspeakable.
But when men begin to relax in their regards to God and his holy laws, they become indifferent and careless in their devotions, and at length totally to neglect all application to him, and to live as if there were no such being in the world, and sometimes to set themselves against him and vilify his laws and
government, and draw others to do the same. Of such importance is prayer to such creatures as we are, to cherish and preserve the knowledge of God in our minds.
But this is by no means the only reason of prayer, or the full idea of the benefit we are to expect from it.
To pray with any degree of fervour or earnestness, a man must have some persuasion that it will be of service to him to procure what he
for. And it seems a perversion of words to ask any thing of our Maker which we do not look to obtain from him.
The Scriptures therefore uniformly represent Almighty God as hearkening to the prayers of mankind, and disposed to bestow upon them every thing that they ask that is good for them. And prayer is considered as a part of the great scheme of his government, as a means to dispose and qualify us to receive the blessings and favours we ask of him. Of this, that prayer of Solomon, king of Israel, at the dedication of the temple he had built by divine direction, is a fine example and pattern. (1 Kings, viii.)
However, as we ourselves are creatures so shortsighted and unknowing what might be