« ZurückWeiter »
your temptations let you alone, let not your God alone; but lay up prayers and the blessings of a constant devotion against the day of trial. Well may your temptation sleep, but if your prayers do so, you may chance to be awakened with an assault that may ruin you. However, the rule is easy: Whatsoever you need, ask it of God so long as you want it, even till you have it. For God, therefore, many times defers to grant, that thou mayest persevere to ask ; and because every holy prayer is a glorification of God by the confessing many of his attributes, a lasting and a persevering prayer is a little image of the hallelujahs and services of eternity; it is a continuation to do that, according to our measures, which we shall be doing to eternal ages : therefore, think not, that five or six hearty prayers can secure to thee a great blessing, and a supply of a mighty necessity. He that prays so, and then leaves off, hath said some prayers, and done the ordinary offices of his religion; but hath not secured the blessing, nor used means reasonably proportionable to a mighty interest.
4. The prayers of a good man are oftentimes hindered, and destitute of their effect, for want of praying in good company; for sometimes an evil or an obnoxious person hath so secured and ascertained a mischief to himself, that he that stays in his company or his traffic, must also share in his punishment: and the Tyrian sailors with all their vows and prayers could not obtain a prosperous voyage, so long as Jonas was within the bark; for in this case the interest is divided, and the public sin prevails above the private piety. When the philosopher asked a penny of Antigonus, he told him it was too little for a king to give;' when he asked a talent, he told him it was too much for a philosopher to receive;' for he did purpose to cozen his own charity, and elude the other's necessity, upon pretence of a double inequality. So it is in the case of a good man mingled in eyil company; if a curse be too severe for a good man, a mercy is not to be expected by evil company; and his prayer, when it is made in common, must partake of that event of things which is appropriate to that society. The purpose of this caution is, that every good man be careful, that he do not mingle his devotion in the communions of heretical persons, and in schismatical conventicles ; for al
though he be like them that follow Absalom in the simplicity of their heart, yet his intermedial fortune, and the event of his present affairs, may be the same with Absalom's; and it is not a light thing, that we curiously choose the parties of our communion. I do not say it is necessary to avoid all the society of evil persons; “ for then we must go out of the world;" and when we have thrown out a drunkard, possibly we have entertained a hypocrite; or when a swearer is gone, an oppressor may stay still; or if that be remedied, yet pride is soon discernible, but not easily judicable : but that which is of caution in this question, is, that we never mingle with those, whose very combination is a sin; such as were Corah and his company that rebelled against Moses their prince; and Dathan and Abiram that made a schism in religion against Aaron the priest: for so said the Spirit of the Lord, “ Come out from the congregation of these men, lest ye perish in their company;" and all those that were abused in their communion, did perish in the gainsaying of Corah. It is a sad thing to see a good man cozened by fair pretences, and allured into an evil snare; for besides, that he dwells in danger, and cohabits with a dragon, and his virtue may change by evil persuasion, into an evil disposition, from sweetness to bitterness, from thence to evil speaking, from thence to believe a lie, and from believing to practise it ;-besides this, it is a very great sadness, that such a man should lose all his prayers to very many purposes. God will not respect the offering of those men, who assemble by a peevish spirit; and therefore, although God in pity regards the desires of a good man, if innocently abused, yet as it unites in that assembly, God will not hear it to any purposes of blessing, and holiness: unless “ we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” we cannot have the blessing of the Spirit in the returns of a holy prayer; and all those assemblies, which meet together against God or God's ordinance, may pray and call, and cry loudly, and frequently, and still they provoke God to anger; and many times he will not have so much mercy for them, as to deny them; but lets them prosper in their sin, till it swells to intolerable and unpardonable. But when good men pray with one heart, and in a holy assembly, that is, holy in their desires, lawful in their authority, though the
persons be of different complexions, then the prayer flies up to God like the hymns of a choir of angels; for God,--that made body and soul to be one man, and God and man to be one Christ; and three persons are one God, and his praises are sung to him by choirs, and the persons are joined in orders, and the orders into hierarchies, and all, that God might be served by unions and communities;-loves that his church should imitate the concords of heaven, and the unions of God, and that every good man should promote the interests of his prayers by joining in the communion of saints in the unions of obedience and charity, with the powers that God and the laws have ordained.
The sum is this: If the man that makes the prayer, be an unholy person, his prayer is not the instrument of a blessing, but a curse; but when the sinner begins to repent truly, then his desires begin to be holy. But if they be holy, and just, and good, yet they are without profit and effect, if the prayer be made in schism, or an evil communion, or if it be made without attention, or if the man soon gives over, or if the prayer be not zealous, or if the man be angry. There are very many ways for a good man to become unblessed, and unthriving in his prayers, and he cannot be secure unless he be in the state of grace, and his spirit be quiet, and his mind be attentive, and his society be lawful, and his desires earnest and passionate, and his devotions persevering, lasting till his needs be served or exchanged for another blessing: so that, what Lælius (apud Cicer. de senectute) said concerning old age, “neque in summa inopia levis esse senectus potest, ne sapienti quidem, nec insipienti etiam in summa copia non gravis;” “ that a wise man could not bear old age, if it were extremely poor; and yet if it were very rich, it were intolerable to a fool;" we may say concerning our prayers; they are sins and unholy, if a wicked man makes them; and yet if they be made by a good man, they are ineffective, unless they be improved by their proper dispositions. A good man cannot prevail in his prayers, if his desires be cold, and his affections trifling, and his industry soon weary, and his society criminal; and if all these appendages of prayer be observed, yet they will do no good to an evil man; for his prayer that begins in sin, shall end in sorrow.
3. Next I am to inquire and consider, What degrees and circumstances of piéty are required to make us fit to be intercessors for others, and to pray for them with probable effect? I say with probable effect;' for when the event principally depends upon that which is not within our own election, such as are the lives and actions of others, all that we can consider in this affair is, whether we be
persons fit to pray in the behalf of others, that hinder not, but are persons within the limit and possibilities of the present mercy. When the emperor Maximinus was smitten with the wrath of God, and a sore disease, for his cruel persecuting the Christian cause, and putting so many thousand innocent and holy persons to death, and he understood the voice of God and the accents of thunder, and discerned that cruelty was the cause, he revoked their decrees made against the Christians, recalled them from their caves and deserts, their sanctuaries, and retirements, and enjoined them to pray for the life and health of their prince. They did so; and they who could command mountains to remove and were obeyed, they who could do miracles, they who with the key of prayer could open God's four closets, of the womb and the grave, of providence and rain,-could not obtain for their bloody emperor one drop of mercy, but he must die miserable for ever. God would not be entreated for him; and though he loved the prayer because he loved the advocates, yet Maximinus was not worthy to receive the blessing. And it was threatened to the rebellious people of Israel, and by them to all people that should sin grievously against the Lord, God “ would break their staff of bread," and even the righteous should not be prevailing intercessors; “ Though Noah, Job, or Daniel, were there, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord Goda :" and when Abraham prevailed very far with God in the behalf
a Ezek. xiv. 14.
of Sodom, and the five cities of the plain, it had its period : if there had been ten righteous in Sodom, it should have been spared for their sakes; but four only were found, and they only delivered their own souls too; but neither their righteousness, nor Abraham's prayer, prevailed any farther. And we have this case also mentioned in the New Testament: If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death b.” At his prayer the sinner shall receive pardon ; God shall “ give him life for them,” to him that prays in their behalf that sin, provided it be “not a sin unto death;” for “ there is a sin unto death, but I do not say that he shall pray for it:" there his commission expires, and his power is confined. For there are some sins of that state and greatness that God will not pardon. St. Austin in his books'de Sermone Domini in Monte' affirms it, concerning some one single sin of a perfect malice. It was also the opinion of Origen and Athanasius, and is followed by Venerable Bede; and whether the Apostle means a peculiar state of sin, or some one single great crime which also supposes a precedent and a present state of criminal condition; it is such a thing as will hinder our prayers from prevailing in their behalf: we are therefore not encouraged to pray, because they cannot receive the benefit of Christ's intercession, and therefore much less of our advocation, which only can prevail by virtue and participation of his mediation. For whomsoever Christ prays, for them we pray; that is, for all them that are within the covenant of repentance, for all whose actions have not destroyed the very being of religion, who have not renounced their faith, nor voluntarily quit their hopes, nor openly opposed the Spirit of grace, nor grown by a long progress to a resolute and final impiety, nor done injustices greater than sorrow, or restitution, or recompence, or acknowledgment. However, though it may be uncertain and disputed concerning the number of “ sins unto death,” and therefore to pray, or not to pray, is not matter of duty ;--yet it is all one as to the effect, whether we know them or no; for though we intend charity, when we pray for the worst of men,-yet concerning the event God
1 1 John, v. 16.