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whisperings, and salutations: but I would rather dwell on the root of the evil-the wandering of the heart.— In the midst of a solemn prayer, the heart will be dwelling on an earthly business, or pursuing a vain pleasure. It will be engaged in thoughts of doing good on a subject foreign to the prayer then offering up with the lips, or be led aside to circumstances relating to the subject of our prayers.*
There is a contest often carrying on in the Christian's breast, during worship, of which the mere formalist is wholly ignorant. His end is gained, his conscience is satisfied, if he has appeared in the house of God, or if he has repeated his prayers-he thinks this a meritorious service, and is well pleased with himself. Not so the watchful Christian. It is his continual internal struggle to worship God in spirit and in truth. He lenows the task of raising an earthly mind to heavenly things. He strives not only against worldly thoughts, but also against good thoughts which often come thus unseasonably, to hinder him in attending to the present duty. In carrying on this contest, he finds the power of a carnal mind, continually sinking him to the dust. He repels idle and wandering thoughts, he labours against inattention, and, perhaps, after all, he has gained but a transient moment of devotion, and he returns humbled, abased, and depressed, smiting his
*A converted female among the liberated Negroes in Sierra Leone described this very expressively.-She said, Wicked thing trouble me much; me want to do good, but my wicked beart will no let me. My heart run away all this week; run all about."When asked what she meant by her heart running all about, she replied, Suppose me pray, my heart run to my country; to Sierra Leone; all about; and then me can't say no more but Jesus Christ have mercy on me, poor thing! my bad heart. Me tink sometimes we have two hearts; one want to do good, but the other always want to do bad. O Jesus, have mercy on me poor sinner!"
breast, and saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.— Nothing humbles him more than the defects of his prayers.
It is well when we are deeply affected by this wandering of the heart, and mourn on account of it. But, if the writer may judge from his own experience, how often do we insult and dishonour God by a slight and perfunctory service, and yet retire from worship with little brokenness of heart, and little contrition. How would such conduct towards an earthly superior, when reflected on in sober moments, overwhelm our minds with shame and confusion of face?
To some, almost the whole of their prayers is, at times, little else but one continued distraction; they have not a single holy thought really offered up to God in any part of the service; and, alas! if the thoughts of most Christians during their worship were expressed with their prayers, what strange petitions would be found to be offered up to God! An old writer justly observes, t thinking is the mind's speaking, and the Heart-searcher can, and does more easily take notice when the mind thinks impertinently, than we can observe when the tongue speaks so." There are but few that make a real business of prayer.
There is GREAT EVIL IN THESE DISTRACTIONS. The more wandering the heart is, the more wearisome is the duty while the nearer we come to God, the more warmth, and life, and comfort we enjoy. The work of prayer not only ceases while our hearts wander, but distracted confessions increase guilt; distracted petitions only ask for a denial; and distracted praises tend to stop the current of mercy. We make light of distractions on account of their commonness; but God greatly condems them. A curse is pronounced on those who do
the work of the Lord deceitfully, or negligently. Jer. xlviii, 10. God declares," I know the things that come into your heart, every one of them." Ezek. xi, 5. Sins in public worship must be peculiarly offensive to the holy God. Solomon says, with a marked emphasis, "I saw the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there." Eccles. iii, 16.
It is an awful character described by David, "There is no faithfulness in their mouth, their inward part is very wickedness, their throat is an open sepulchre, they flatter with their tongue." Ps. v, 9. Observe, too, how this sin agrees to Ezekiel's description, (Ezek. xxxiii, 31.) "They come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people,—for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after covetousness."
God has ever shewn himself to be jealous respecting those things which concern his immediate worship. Thus we find Nadab and Abihu punished with death for offering strange fire before the Lord. Lev. x, 1, 2. We read that Uzzah was smitten with death for touching the ark of God. 2 Sam. vi, 6. The directions respecting his worship under the Mosaic dispensations were very minute and particular, which, among other things, may teach us the need of great attention in our approaches to God, and the regard which God pays to all our worship. Indeed, as one observes, "it is evidently a gross insult to the glorious God, when praying to him, to quit him in the midst of our prayers, as if we were conversing with an inferior, and to make vain excursions on every side."
Another thing which should teach us the sinfulness of distractions is, they bear the stamp of HYPOCRISY. It was the reproach of the ancient Church, "Ephraim com
passeth me about with lies." Hosea ii, 12, &c. Is not this a true description of much of the worship of Christians? You would not like that any fellow Christian should know what was passing in your heart during your prayers; but is it not a small matter to be judged of man's judgment? he that judgeth me is the Lord.
Alas! when we look back on the distractions of our prayers, (and the writer continually and deeply feels in his own prayers the prevalence of that evil which he has been describing,) have we not reason to fear that few ever really pray? are we not compelled to acknowledge, how seldom they that pray oftenest, do pray; and what short prayers the best make, many words, perhaps, and but very little prayer? These things should lead us more to value the doctrine of free justification through the blood of Christ; more deeply to prize and more earnestly to ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit; more to depend on the Saviour's intercession; and more to long to be in that blessed kingdom where we shall serve our God without weariness, or wandering.
Some HINTS THAT MAY, by the help of God, ASSIST YOU TO AVOID DISTRACTIONS Will now be mentioned.
There may be an infirmity arising from the state of bodily health, or constitution, and the like, of which timid and anxious Christians, who are most apt to be troubled by their wanderings in prayer, should not lose sight in judging of themselves. Preston observes, "One may aim at a mark and do his best, and yet be hindered either by the palsy in his arm, or by one who jogs him when about it.” But the general CAUSE of our distractions is the remaining strength of corrupt nature. Though the Christian is born again of God, he has two contending, princip les within--the old man, and the new man; and distractions mainly arise from
the weakness of grace, and the strength of sin. Remember, first of all, YOUR ENTIRE DEPENDENCE ON GOD. Know your own weakness. "We are not sufficient of ourselves, to think any thing as of ourselves ; but while you see this, know your Saviour's strength, that his grace is sufficient for you; and, these things being duly impressed on your mind, in his strength seek to overcome this evil. For farther directions, as to the assistance which you may have from God, I refer you to the chapter on the Assistance of the Holy Spirit.
SEND UP FERVENT PETITIONS FOR DIVINE ASSISTANCE, especially when you first find that your heart is wandering. This is an effectual help. It engages the power of God, against the power of Satan and sin. The Psalms are full of suitable expressions that may be used with advantage" My soul cleaveth to the dust, quicken thou me according to thy word. Create in me a clean heart, O God, renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me." Thus contend against your spiritual enemies, and you must overcome them.
DETERMINE TO STRIVE AGAINST WANDERINGS. Are you not in general going carelessly to the worship of God, as a matter of habit and custom, without much thought of engaging your heart to approach unto him?
This seems to be a too general case from the inquiry, "Who is this that hath engaged his heart to approach unto me, saith the Lord ?" Jer. xxx, 21. The heart must be engaged to serve God. We should resolve with Je