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Gospel, who can find his authority against such kind of devotion! For can he who was so often retiring to desarts, to mountains, to solitary places to pray, who spent whole nights in prayer; can he be supposed to have left a reproof upon such as should follow his example?
But besides the authority of his great example, his doctrine is on no point more plain and certain, than where he teaches frecuency, continuance, and importunity in prayer. He spake a parable unto them, to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. Saying, There was in a city a judge which which feared not God, nor regarded man. And there was a widow in that city, and she came unto him, saying, avenge me of my adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterwards he said within himself, though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her. And shall not God arenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him? The apostle tells us, that this parable was to teach men to pray always, and not to faint; and it is plain to any one that reads it, that it has no other intent, but to recommend continuance and importunity, as the most prevailing qualifications of prayer. The widow is relieved; not because she asked relief, but because she continued asking it: and God is said to avenge his elect; not because they cry to him now and then, but because they cry day and night. Our blessed Saviour teacheth the same doctrine in another parable, of a person going to his friend to borrow three loaves of him at midnight; where it thus concludes---I say unto you, though he would not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. Here again the sole scope of this passage is to show the great power and efficacy of continuance and importunity in prayer.
Consider farther in what manuer prayer is mentioned in Scripture, St. Paul does not command us to pray, but to pray without ceasing.
1 Thess.v. 17. The same doctrine is thus taught in
Coloss. iv, 2. another place --Continue in prayer. And again, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. It is said of Anna, that she served God in fasting Eph. vi. 17. and prayer night and day. Now. who can imagine that shortness is an excellency of prayer?
Clito says he desires no more time for rising, dressing, and saying his prayers, than a quarter of an hour. He tells this to his friends; not to show his want of religion, but that he may be thought to understand devotion. You tell him that our Saviour's parables teach continuance and importunity in prayer; that the apostles exhort to pray without ceasing, to pray always; and that devout persons: are recorded in Scripture, as praying night and day. Still Clito is for short prayers. He at last. finds a. text of Scripture, and appeals to the example of the angels; they only said, Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good-will towards men. Clito takes this. to be an argument for short prayer; because the angels had done so soon; but Clito must be told, that this is no prayer; it is only a joyful proclama.. tion tu men. And surely the manner of angels speaking to men, can be no rule or measure of the devotion of men speaking to God. The angels had no more to tell the world, than this message of joy; but does it therefore follow, that sinners are to be as short in the address to God? The Scripture tells us sometimes of voices from heaven; but it would be strange to make the things that were then spoken, the measure of our prayers when we call upon God.. If Clito must have an example from heaven, he might have found one much more proper than this, where it is said, that they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God
Rey, iy, 8. Almighty, which was and is, and is to
Our blessed Saviour saith, But thou, when thora prayest, enter into thy closet, and when
Matt. vi. 6. thou hast shut thy door, pray unto thy Father, &c. Now here indeed is no mention of the time that prayer is to be continued; but yet this preparation for prayer, of entering into our closet, and shutting the door, seems to teach us that it is a work of some time; that we are not hastily to open our door, but to allow ourselves time to continue and be importunate in our prayers.
How long and how often all people ought to pray, is not to be stated by any one particular mea
But this we may take as a general rule, that relates to all particulars, that every Christian is to pray so often and so long, as to show a perseverance and importunity in prayer; as to show that he prays without ceasing; that he prays always ; and that he cries to God night and day : for these are essential qualifications of prayer, and expressly required in Scripture. One would think it impossible for people to be sparing in their devotions, who have read our Saviour's parables, which teach us that the blessings of heaven, the gifts and graces of God's Holy Spirit, are given to such as are importunate in their prayers. I shall now only add a word or two in favour of frequent and continued prayers.
First, frequent and continued prayers are a likely means to beget in us the spirit of prayer. A man that is often in his closet on his knees to God, though he may for some time perform but a liplabour, will, if he perseveres, find the very labour of his lips altering the temper of his heart; and that he has learned to pray, by praying often.
This we find to be true in all parts of life, that we catch a spirit and temper from such conversation and ways of life as we allow ourselves in. Use is called a second nature, and experience teaches us, that whatever we accustam ourselves to, will by
degrees transform our spirit and temper into a likeness to it.
Credula was for some time a tender mother, friendly and charitable to ber neighbours, and full of good-will towards all people: she is now spightful, inalicious, envious, and delights in nothing but scandal. How came Credula thus changed? Why, she has been for several years spending her time in visiting; she entered into scandal and evil-speaking at first, merely for the sake of talk; she has gone on talking, till she has talked her very heart and spirit into a taste for nothing else : at first she only detracted from her neighbours and friends, because she was visiting; but now she visits for the sake of detraction. Credula is hardened and cruel in evilspeaking, for the same reason that butchers are inhuman and cruel, because she has been so long used to murder the reputation of her neiglıbours. She has killed all her own family over and over; and if she seeks new acquaintance, it is to get įresh matter for scandal; now all this change in Credula is purely owing to her indulging a talkative temper.
Now every thing that we use ourselves to, enters into our nature in this manner, and becomes a part of us before we are aware. It is common to observe, that some people tell a story so long, till they have forgotten that they invented it. This is not, as is supposed, through a bad memory; but because the things which we make constant and familiar, will, by degrees, steal the approbation of the heart. If therefore we would but be oiten on our knees, putting up our prayers to God, though, for a while, it was only form and outward compliance, yet our hearts would, by degrees, learn the language of our mouths. The subject of our prayers would become the subject of our hearts; we should pray ourselves into devotion, and it would become a part of ns, in the same manner that all other ways enter into our nature. Our reason and judgment would, at last, consent to our lips, and by saying the same things often, we should come to believe and feel them in a proper manner. For it is a very reasonable thing to judge of the effects of good customs, by what we see to be the effects of bad' ones. They therefore, who are hasty in their devotions, and think a little will do, are strangers both to the nature of devotion, and the nature of man; they do not know that they are to learn to pray, and that prayer is to be learned, as they learn all other things, by frequency, constancy, and perseverance.
Secondly; There is another great advantage in frequent and continued prayers.
The cares and pleasures of life, the levity, vanity, and dullness of our minds, make us all, more or less, unfit for our devotions. We enter into our closets thus unprepared for prayer; now if your petitions are very short, we shall end our prayers before our devotion is begun; before we have time to recollect our minds, or turn our hearts to the business we are upon.
Now continuance in prayer is a great relief against these indispositions; not only as gives the heart leisure to fall from worldly cares and concerns, but as it exercises the mind upon such subjects as are likely to abate its vanity and distraction, and raise it into a state of seriousness and attention. It is the case of all people to find themselves inconstant in their prayers, joining heartily with some petitions, and wandering away from others; it is therefore but common prudence to continue our prayers, that our minds, which will wander from some parts, may have others to join in. If we were masters of our attention, and could be as fervent as we pleased, then indeed fewer words might serve for our devotion; but since our minds are weak, inconstant, and ungovernable, we must endeavour to catch and win them to devotion, by