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Christ, our faith in him as the only ground of admission into his presencechamber, and hope for success,-may have the assurance of his existence, truth, and goodness, together with all the articles of our faith, and every right impression more fully stamped on our souls; and any wrong impression on the subject will be a cause of keeping Christians from many blessings, both temporal and spiritual, simply by preventing the asking for them.
The common excuse for not asking for particular blessings is submission to the will of God; yet it is far more likely to be unbelief in the word of God, meaning all it says in simplicity ; such as, “ If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John xiv. 14.) It certainly shows great ignorance; because, of what use can the permission be, if never to be used? or because the thing being good, according to God's own estimate, is understood in the promise, are we to suppose we are, after all, left so incapable of judging, (however liable to error by nature,) that it becomes a mere piece of mockery?
Men are not so ready to give up their wishes to the will of God, when they know them wrong, or are not called on to depend upon such evidence of faith for obtaining them : and if such a promise was made by an earthly parent, he would expect it to be believed. Prayer is the address or petition of one being to another for things not in the power of the petitioner; and its efficacy depends only on the will and power of the being addressed to hear and answer it, which may depend on its nature and mode; and although the promise from one we confide in that he will grant it must be a source of faith and love in him, yet the fact of his having kept his promise would be sure to increase both these and all other relative affections in such a being as man towards his benefactor, while the mysterious nature of the means of communication with God must inspire at the same time that child-like awe and reverence requisite as a check to the abuse of his goodness. Now, no man would believe that a friend or fellow-man would refuse a reasonable request in his power, to grant which would not even inconvenience him, particularly if he had already promised it; so no Christian can have a rational doubt of God's willingness to answer his petitions, unless he asks for what will not benefit, but injure, him ; then, even a man, if he had the knowledge of it, would refuse his child, but in love, and without being at all the less willing to hear him at a future period, when the request was good ; and the impressions produced on the child by having his prayer granted would be those God has declared he and every other father also desires to see increased,-awe, reverence, love, faith, patience, hope, and content,--and stamp on the soul full confidence in all the other promises regarding the future, so as to make them that sustaining power God intends them to be.
The requisites, then, which are demanded, are, to know our real wants, and bring our minds to seek them, and asking for them according to one fixed and unalterable condition, expressed or understood, because the only means of reconciliation for past offences is through the blood, and in the name, of Christ, who is our intercessor at God's right hand for us, and by whom the promises are made. I shall now refer briefly to those important objects of prayer which are invariably acknowledged by Christians to be a duty, and then go on to my main object, the value of prayer for some immediate good or present want; for it is on these last subjects, reducing prayer to practice, as a request or petition between father and child, according to the command, “Be careful for nothing, and in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”—that Christians are, I believe, less ready to acknowledge his truth and love.
Forgiveness for sin is the first and most important blessing the Christian has to request, because without this assurance there can be no peace of conscience, no well-grounded hope in the future; and without this all other requests, if granted, would not be felt as blessings. The necessity of repentance, and of that humility and sorrow for sin, with a desire to avoid it in future, which lead the offending child to his Father's feet, in such a state of soul that he can grant the request, are too fully known and declared in Scripture to require my giving proof; and as they are demanded in his word, none who believe in Christ being the Son of God will doubt so solemn a part of his truth : but as repentance would never give boldness to come into the offended presence of the Divine Majesty, there must be faith in Christ, as the Propitiation and Mediator, ready to intercede ; and the fact of the heavenly Father having given him up for us, ought to leave no doubt that his intercession is effectual ; and the soul, thus freed from fear for past offences, and assured that he has still the same Intercessor to plead in future weakness, has peace and hope, with assurance to make request for minor things.
For what parent, who has a disobedient child, does not expect acknowledgment of the offences, and that humble state of mind which is produced by sincere contrition, before he grants forgiveness ; or what hope would there be of the child being more obedient in future, if too obstinate to confess its sin ? And this is also required by the Most High, with faith in the Gospel or means of peace ; (Luke xiii. 3 ; Acts iii. 19; Mark i. 15 ;) and then he has promised full forgiveness. For the whole of this doctrine, I have but to quote 1 John i. 9 : “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Assurance of this great object being attained, (and where can there be ground of doubt, God having given up Christ as an earnest of his will to grant it?) the believer in the consciousness that he is still liable to be tempted, and drawn away from his duty by the force of his own lusts, requires this daily cleansing, with power to avoid giving way to temptation, and being drawn again into bondage) must continue instant in prayer, as the means of overcoming sin and the world. This, together with wisdom to learn his own nature, and the various wiles of his spiritual enemies, by knowing what God in Christ was, as an example, and what he taught, is the second great object of
object of prayer. To men this has been perhaps the greatest mystery of all, how the operations of prayer, or the simple act of praying, is a means by which the Christian acquires strength against the force of a natural desire over which he has no natural power : but as no man can pray in sincerity and truth without that faith which believes in God's presence,-and therefore having all that awful consciousness of it, and the certain detection and punishment of hypocrisy,—the influence of the act will be to increase the power
of every attribute of the soul which God has implanted in us to check sin. The child who has a due reverence and awe of his parent, will have, by bringing the idea of that presence to his mind as a fact, the same influence produced there which he would, if he actually saw him bodily, according as his idea or faith in that presence is more or less felt; and this shows at once, that while prayer must be a mighty source of good to the Christian,
to one who believes not in God it must be perfectly useless. And as the fact of God's presence is the same at all times, so prayer being a means of supporting and increasing the faith, and all other spiritual advantages arising from it, the Christian should seek to keep in a continual condition of prayer, even when making no particular appeal, as he will be thereby prepared to meet every temptation as it arises; if also, by being well instructed in the truth, his eyes are open to detect it, his conscience will be aroused and tender, and, instead of being shackled under the dominion of his passions, he will be enabled, through the exercise of prayer, not only to have fellowship with the Father, but to have power with God : the knowledge he will acquire of the advantages of prayer, and walking with God, and the evil he has felt ever to arise from sin, will always be increasing, through experience; and thus, according to that wise system which God has instituted in man, every good desire and faculty of the soul will strengthen with its exercise, and the power of evil diminish ; or, as it is expressed in Scripture, “For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” (Mark iv. 25.) And, again, “ Resist the devil, and he will flee from you ;” (James iv. 7 ;) for we always find any desires we give way to always increase in force over us; and the same consequences arise from praying or desiring (for without a real desire prayer is misnamed) to follow the will of God, and grow in grace ; and
prayer itself becomes a delight by the blessed peace and value found to arise from it.
This power in prayer to purify the heart has been acknowledged by infidel philosophers; the force of facts, as revealed in Christians, compelling them to do so. O, if their hearts could be brought to offer but one sincere prayer for the truth, what happy results might flow! what glorious rewards hereafter, if their often splendid talents were devoted to the service of their Maker!
The next objects of prayer are, so to use our various opportunities of doing good, that we may walk with God by the acquisition of knowledge as to the right application of our time and talents, and also in obtaining such things as, according to the conditions in which God has placed us, are requisite to our happiness. Now, the operation of prayer in producing sincerity, by the consciousness of God's presence, has already been alluded to; and its effects will always be beneficial, whatever our aim may be, in detecting and removing any lurking evil which pride, selfishness, prejudice, or other working of the flesh, may obtrude, to close the conscience against the truth, if our prayer be for knowledge : but to suppose that the full meaning of the promise of God to answer our prayer ends in that, would be unworthy of a Christian, contrary to example in Scripture, and make God anything but a Being whose name is Love. There may be cases where a father will say to his child, “Think carefully, and you will see it yourself.” But are there not many times when the child will want further assistance, and many objects which require help on the father's part, otherwise his child will be left deficient of many sources of happiness and progress
in virtue and truth? The first requisite, then, of course, is faith. No one will ask if he has no idea of its being useful; but none can have faith, except on some foundation or evidence. I mean sufficient faith to induce him to ask, (Matt. xvii. 20,) and to expect to receive, grounded on the atoning sacrifice and prevalent intercession of Jesus Christ.
Now, in the Christian, the evidence required is to see that God has given VOL. III.--FOURTH SERIES.
permission to ask, and a promise to answer. In John xvi. 23, this command of our Saviour is given, his purpose being the increase of our present happiness, by seeing those evidences of his power and love, which will be sure to delight the soul. He presses them to it in these words : “ Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name : ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” The system of argument I have made use of in this paper, of taking the known proper dealing of a father to his child as a guide to what God will do, our Saviour himself uses in Matt. vii. 9-11, ridiculing the idea of God not being willing to grant the request of his children, when they ask for what they really require. Principles do not change ; and if we are to look on God as our Father in love, of course his dealings towards us will be in consistency with that relative position carried out according to the most profound wisdom. And what fills the soul of a child with joy, but the assurance he can have all he desires ? the only check being his liability to ask, in ignorance or childishness, for something not really good. But this, in a sincere Christian, only tends to increase his joy, because he knows his own liability to false wishes; and however hard, according to the flesh, yet in his considerate moments the renewed spirit can be felt rejoicing in the preventive care as well as the providing love of his Father, without the fear of the one destroying the reality of the other ; and the simple fact, that one blessing had been so granted, as to be an obvious answer to prayer, would be a source of joy and strength, increase his love to God, faith in His love, presence, and power, with a desire to please and obey Him, and learn what His mind in us is, so as to regulate our prayer and desires in future, &c. We see, therefore, in this exercise of prayer, and its adaptation to the soul, what a mighty power it is, and how surely God must desire to establish such a system of communion and manifestation of himself. (John xiv. 21.)
The good and wise man says, “You know I am always ready to give you anything good, if you will only ask for it.” He pants to establish this confidence of his love in the soul of the child, though he never means it to interfere with his own exertions to attain useful ends, but as an assurance of his help when it is required ; and the pure law of love is established in man, after an image in the mind, in the great Father of all. But if the child, after all, doubt it to be a gift in answer to his prayer, whether from the manner of the gift, or any other cause, its force to strengthen his faith in the promises is lost.
The next objection I shall endeavour to meet is, that God's laws are so fixed, and all his ways so predetermined, that it is useless to expect a change in them, or that he will so order them as to meet our wishes.
But the actual change of any established natural law cannot be requisite for our wants, because God has so created and adapted all things for the purpose of supplying them : and the order of events is in no respect so fixed, as not to be in subservience to those principles which God has given man for his rule of life in the word, and the reasonable gratification of those desires which arise from the mind and body; for it is the excess which is evil. In fact, the whole three-the creation, the Word, and man-are adapted by the same hand to work in harmony with each other; and the first is proinised to be ordered by the last, and the last to be guided by him to meet the first, when man seeks, through knowledge, and faith in the second, to be ruled by God. It simply, therefore, requires faith in those promises given by Christ, to see the impossibility of God having bound himself in the natural laws, so as not to be able to keep them, as well as by his declared purposes in man, to be unwilling to answer the reasonable requests made to him, and thus make his doing so a requisite to their attainment, as a source of increase in faith, peace, and joy, by the answer. But, perhaps, some one will say, “ All this is true; but we do not know how to ask, and therefore had better leave it all to God." True, my friend, naturally we do not, because we have no standard by which to regulate our desires. But surely no Christian will say, that because a child is liable to err in asking for foolish sweets, that his father forbids him asking at all? No; he teaches him what he ought to seek. And has God been negligent in this? Have we not Scripture to teach us what God acknowledges as good requests and real wants ?--what he has sanctioned in the prayers of his people aforetime? and the fact of our being commanded to ask, though in submission to God's will for an answer, and having instruction given to regulate our requests, implies the fact, that to learn what God will grant, is within our reach ; while the force of conscience will, if listened to, ever detect a prayer in the lusts of the flesh from the real wants of the body and soul. It would be as reasonable to argue, a man must not work, for, if he does, it is to satisfy a want; and he never dreams idleness a virtue, or an evidence of content, or the liability to err in the desire he has existing an excuse for it. But surely a man is far more likely to be injured by this method of satisfying himself, when he has it within the reach of his own powers, because, if it depended on the immediate help of God, and the desire was evil, then it would not be granted, and the evil consequences would not follow.
It is obvious, then, that the Christian may ask ; nay, more, that God beseeches him to ask ; that God has established this means of communication with him, as a way of manifesting himself to his people ; and that God would not either desire or com it, if it were impossible the request would be so regulated that he could grant them ; because an evil prayer is sin, and God is not a tempter; and the use of prayer is no evidence of discontent, because God has made it an act of obedience; and, of course, so regulates all things, that Christians cannot obtain many real blessings without this proof of their faith. So, let every Christian know, that he is without many blessings, if he does not recognise this. Humility is often the excuse for not asking ; but although conscious liability to err may sometimes prevent us, yet it should rather cause a search into the real motives, and whether conscience, and God's truth, its instructer, does not say the desire is not good, while it is often a cloak for unbelief. Men are in no such hurry to give up their pursuits, when they hope to attain them by their own exertions, but stretch every nerve. How is it they become so modest and watchful, when the only way of obtaining their wishes is a simple act, showing faith in God's power of arrangement and combination to help and direct them ? and no man but at times is in circumstances when he is conscious of a reasonable and useful wish, and yet sees no way of gratifying it, although the obstacles are only such as a little help from God's overruling power would either direct his mind as to the means, or bring it within his reach. Neither is it altogether the case, that a prayer for a thing which God cannot sanction, if uttered in ignorance, is displeasing to him. The ignorance he will forgive, and be pleased with the faith from which it proceeds ; while his refusal to grant it proves the error existing. The thing may be even good in the abstract; but perhaps some favourite passion to which we are already too much inclined, will be thereby strengthened ; or the suppliant may, perhaps, through doubt, after the request is made, lose it