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A PRAYER FOR THE EVENING.
Eternal God, Almighty Father of men and angels, by whose care and providence I am preserved and blessed, comforted, and assisted; I humbly beg of Thee to pardon the sins and follies of this day, the weaknesses of my services and the strength of my passions, the rashness of my words and the vanity and evil of my actions. O just and dear God, how long shall I confess my sins, and pray against them, and yet fall under them? O let it be so no more; let me never return to the follies of which I am ashamed, which bring sorrow and death, and Thy displeasure, worse than death. Give me a command over my evil inclinations, and a perfect hatred of sin, and a love to Thee above all the desires of this world. Be pleased to bless and preserve me. this night from all sin, and all violence of chance, and the malice of the spirits of darkness; watch over me in my sleep, and whether I sleep or wake let me be Thy servant. Be Thou first and last in all my thoughts, and the guide and continual assistance of all my actions. Preserve my body, pardon the sin of my soul, and sanctify my spirit. Let me always live holily and justly and soberly; and when I die, receive my soul into Thy hands, O holy and ever-blessed Jesus, that I may lie in Thy bosom, and long for Thy coming, and hear Thy blessed sentence at doomsday, and behold Thy face, and live in Thy kingdom, singing praises to God for ever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER may be considered in a threefold notion. I. As a duty we owe to God. As it is from Him we expect and receive all, it is a very reasonable homage and acknowledgment thus to testify the dependence of our being and life on Him, and the dependence of our souls upon Him for being, and life, and all good; that we be daily suitors before
His throne, and go to Him for all. 2. As it constitutes the dignity and the delight of a spiritual mind to have so near access unto God, and such liberty to speak to Him. 3. As a proper and sure means, by divine appointment and promise, of obtaining at the hands of God those good things that are needful and convenient for us. And although some believers of lower knowledge do not (it may be) so distinctly know, and others not so particularly consider, all these in it, yet there is a latent notion of them all in the heart of every godly person, which stirs them and puts them on to the constant use of prayer, and to a love of it.
And as they are in these respects inclined and bent to the exercise of prayer, the Lord's ear is in like manner inclined to hear their prayer in these respects. I. He takes it well at their hands that they do offer it up as due worship to Him, that they desire thus as they can to serve Him. He accepts of those offerings graciously, passes by the imperfections in them, and hath regard to their sincere intention and desire. 2. It pleases Him well that they delight in prayer, as converse with Him; that they love to be much with Him, and to speak to Him often, and still aspire by this way to more acquaintance with Him; that they are ambitious of this. 3. He willingly hears their prayers as the expressions of their necessities and desires; being both rich and bountiful, He loves to have blessings drawn out of His hands that way. The Lord's treasury is always full, and therefore He is always communicative. In the first respect, prayer is acceptable to the Lord "As incense and sacrifice,” as David desires, (Psalm cxl. 2,) the Lord receives it as divine worship done to Him. In the second respect, prayer is as the visits and sweet entertainment and discourse of friends together, and so is pleasing to the Lord, as the free opening of the mind, the pouring out of the heart to Him, as it is called, Psalm lxii. 8; and David in Psalm v. 1, calls it his words and his meditation, the word for that signifies discourse or conference. And in the third sense, the Lord receives prayer as the suits of petitioners who are in favour with Him, and whom He readily accords to. And this the word for supplication in the original, and the word here rendered prayer, and that rendered cry in the Psalm, do mean; and in that sense, the Lord's open ear and hearkening hath in it His readiness to answer, as one that doth hear, and to answer graciously and really, as hearing favourably.
He that in prayer minds none but himself, doubtless he is not right in minding himself. Howsoever, this he may be sure of, that in keeping out others from his prayers, he bars himself from the benefit of all others' prayers likewise. If thou prayest for thyself alone, thou alone prayest for thyself, says St. Ambrose. So that self-love itself may here plead for love to our brethren.
Forget not the Church of God, and to seek the good of Zion; it is not only your duty, but your benefit. Are you not all concerned in it, if indeed you be parts of that mystical body? And it hinders not at all, but rather advances your personal suits at God's hands, when He sees your love to your brethren, and desires for the Church's good.
Let not, therefore, any estate, no private perplexity or distress, nor very sorrow for sin, take you so up as to be all for yourselves; let others, but especially the public condition of the Church of God, find room with you. We find it thus with David when he was lamenting his own case, Psalm li. 18, and Psalm xxv. ult. and elsewhere, yet he forgets not the Church : “In Thy good pleasure do good to Zion, and build up the walls of Jerusalem.” So, then, let this be the constant tenor of your prayers, even in secret. When thou prayest alone, “Shut thy door," says our Saviour; shut out as much as thou canst the sight and notice of others, but shut not out the interest and good of others.
A chief point of prayer is the presenting of the soul before God; remembering to whom we speak, that it is to the great King, the holy God. Consider, if we find our hearts filled with Him when we are before Him. Oh, how seldom think we that He is God, even while we speak to Him, and how quickly do we forget it, and let slip that thought! When we have anything of it, how soon we out of it, and multiplying vain words ! For such are all we utter to Him without this. Oh! pray to be taught this point of prayer, and watch over your hearts in prayer, to set them thus when you enter to Him, and to call them in when they wander, and pluck them up when they slumber, to think where they are, and what they are doing.
Let prayer be not only the key that opens the day, and the lock that shuts out the night, but let it be also, from morning to night, our staff and stay in all our labours, and enable us to go cheerfully up into the mount of God. Prayer brings consolation to the languishing soul, drives away the devil, and is the great medium whereby all grace and peace is communicated to us.
In the worst estate there is ever some matter of praise to be mixed with request, and truly we may justly suspect that our neglect of praises makes our prayers unacceptable. In the best estate here below praise must be accompanied with prayer. Our necessities and straits return daily upon us, and require new supplies of mercy, and prayer, if we know how to use it right, is the way to obtain them all.
In this word concentre all the requests, and are put up together: so be it. And there is in it withal, as all observe, a profession of confidence that it shall be so. It is from one root with those words which signify believing and truth. The truth of God's promising persuades belief; and it persuades to hope for a gracious answer of prayer. And this is the excellent advantage of the prayer of faith, that it quiets and'establishes the heart in God. Whatsoever be its estate and desire, when once the believer hath put his petition into God's hand he rests content in holy security and assurance concerning the answer ; refers it to the wisdom and love of God, how and when He will answer ; not doubting that whatsoever it be, and whensoever, it shall both be gracious and seasonable. But the reason why so few of us find that sweetness and comfort that are in prayer, is, because the true nature and use of it is so little known.
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.
WHEN first thine eyes unvail, give thy soul leave
Give Him thy first thoughts then ; so shalt thou keep
Yet never sleep the sun up. Prayer should
Rise to prevent the sun; sleep doth sins glut,