« PreviousContinue »
mise made unto them that pray. If it were not thus, many, when they have their heart's desire in prayer, would ascribe all to the goodness of their prayers, and not to the free grace of God; and would be proud of their own strength, which is in truth none at all."
I have thus endeavoured to shew you the nature and privilege of prayer; may you be so convinced that it is your duty, as to be desirous of farther instruction on this subject.
THE ASSISTANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN PRAYER.
SUPPOSE the case of a calm at sea. The ship in the midst of the ocean is sometimes arrested in its progress by a dead calm. Every sail is spread to catch the dying breeze, but all in vain. The vessel continues almost motionless on the vast expanse, or only rocked to and fro by the swell of the sea. The mariners look out, day after day, with longing eyes for a favourable gale to carry them onward. And perhaps when they almost despair of attaining it, then, in this hour of need, the sea manifests in the distance a darker hue, some clouds are seen rising in the horizon, a ripple appears upon the water, the sails begin to fill, the wished-for breeze springs up, the sea parts and foams, and the ship darts along towards its destined port.
Thus it is sometimes with the Christian. He needs the breeze from above, and could not without it advance in his course. Sometimes after using every means of grace, his soul seems motionless in the voyage, and his heart sighs and longs for better days. His sails are spread, he is on his way, longing and waiting for, and yet not immediately receiving the favourable breath of heaven. It is delayed, perhaps, to shew him his own inability and weakness, that he is entirely dependent on divine grace, and that the Holy Spirit is the free gift of God. But he is waiting for the breeze, and at length
the wind blows, every sail is filled, every faculty, affection, and power is engaged; he proceeds rapidly in his course, and is wafted along towards the desired haven.
Without me, says Christ, ye can do nothing. The words are full and express: nothing, nothing pleasing to God. We are by nature AVERSE TO PRAYER. If prayer were natural to us, we should find no difficulty in having our hearts engaged in an intercourse so advantageous and so honourable. But who that has attempted this duty, has not found an averseness of heart, a distaste or disrelish, when about to engage in secret prayer. The soul is often straitened, shut up, and closed. Though the Christian knows it to be both his duty and his privilege to pray, he sometimes finds an insuperable impotency and unwillingness. His mind is perhaps filled with worldly cares and anxieties; his affections are wandering after a thousand vanities, and he finds it a laborious effort to drag his soul to the throne of grace,
We are also IGNORANT AS ΤΟ THE SUBJECTS OF PRAYER. We know not what to pray for as we ought. Rom. viii, 26. We indeed feel our misery, but are not fully acquainted either with the cause, or the remedy. Blind men may be conscious of the evil which surrounds them, but cannot see the way to avoid it, nor know how to obtain that which will be for their good. If we know at all what to pray for, yet we have not adequate views of our original depravity, and our exceeding sinfulness and unbelief; nor of the fulness and power of Christ the Saviour. We do not regard the glory of God, but our own ease and pleasure. By nature we love outward good, and are ready to ask, in sickness for health, in pain for ease, in sorrow for comfort, in poverty for wealth, in disregard and contempt for honour and esteem; without
considering God's glory, or our eternal good. The mother of Zebedee's children asked for a place of great honour for her sons; but our Lord said, Ye know not what ye ask. Matt. xx. Often those things which we are ready to ask for, would, if God were to give them to us, be our greatest curse.
Nor, however useful and valuable in themselves, do forms of prayer remedy our ignorance. It is one thing to repeat a form of prayer from a book, or from memory; and it is another thing to have the spirit of prayer in the heart. Two persons may use the same words, and one be worshipping God in spirit and in truth; whilst the other is drawing near to Him with his lips only, and his heart is far from Him.
This ignorance in the understanding is accompanied also with A PERVERSENESS IN THE AFFECTIONS.-We have that carnal mind within us, which is enmity against God. Therefore, though we have all knowledge, though we may pray, either by the most excellent of forms, or by the exercise of the understanding, our affections do not naturally rise to God. The matter of our prayer may be good but the Lord looks at the heart that offers it up. Are your prayers then offered up with a humble and believing heart? are your affections holy and heavenly? are your desires ardent and steady? Or, do not often feel an insurmountable languor oppressing you; so that, like David's, your soul cleaves to the dust?
It will make the subject more plain, if we endeavour to shew the state of the heart in public worship. Judging only by the outward expressions of penitence and contrition, of holy desire, of warm thanksgiving, of earnest intercession, we should say, What heavenly Christians are these! But could we see all that the eye of God
discerns in the hearts of the worshippers, the vain thoughts and distractions, the earthly schemes and plans contriving and executing in the midst of all this apparent devotion, what a mockery would our solemn meetings be often found to be; the very house of God turned again into a den of thieves. (Prov. v, 14.) O what a cold, wandering, and distracted heart is often concealed, under the drama, as it were, of pure and heavenly prayers!
I have stated thus fully the infirmities and deficiencies connected with the performance of this holy duty, in order that the absolute necessity of divine assistance may be more clearly perceived. Blessed be God, we need not be left to ourselves, under the wretchedness and ruin of our fallen nature. However great and multiplied our infirmities, however dark our ignorance, however dull and dead our hearts, there is a power that can raise, support, enlighten, and revive.
The necessity of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, is a principle of main and vital importance in the Christian system; and therefore the Scriptures are very express upon it.
The Holy Ghost is plainly PROMISED TO THE CHURCH. -Thus it is foretold, "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. Isa. xliv, 3. I will put my Spirit within you." Ezek. xxxvi, 27. And our Lord evidently extends the promise of the Spirit to all that seek it, when he says, "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." Luke xi, 13.
The Holy Spirit is promised FOR THE PURPOSE OF ASSISTING US IN OUR PRAYERS.-That promise is directly in point, "I will pour upon the house of David, and up