« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
it follows, that we are to ask of him the blessings we need, and to praise him for all those that surround us. In this view of things, we learn the dependence that all creation hath on God. To this great source we trace our duties and obligations. The duties in which we are now engaged, arise from it. This David well understood ; hence he begins the psalm with these words: “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion; and unto thee shall the vow be performed.” He then adds, “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” The text naturally in. troduces various considerations, that are suitable to the occasion. David, instead of using any of the common names by which Deity is known in the holy scriptures, addresses him in this endear. ing language : “O thou that hearest prayer," and adds, “ to thee shall all flesh come ;" that is, in prayer. Let us, on the present occasion, consider,
1. The nature, design, and uses of prayer.
II. The circumstances that urge us to this du. ty, and our encouragements to engage in it.
I. The nature, design and uses of prayer.
Prayer is, properly speaking, the language of the heart. Hence Paul speaks of praying with the spirit. And we read of some persons who are said to worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. No prayer can be acceptable to God, unless the heart is engaged in it. The most excellent expressions, accompanied with the greatest apparent fervour, are nothing but solemn mockery, unless the heart be duly exercised. For Jehovah looks at the heart, and
we are accepted, by him only when that is right in his sight. If so, it follows that those are the best prayers which flow from a heart deeply affected with the holiness of God's character, with a sense of sin, of its own wants, and of Christ's fullness of grace
for sinners. Such a heart will naturally dictate the most simple and expressive language. The persons we here describe are, in common, well acquainted with the sacred scriptures; which furnish us with the most proper expressions for prayer. Hence it is, I believe, that very pious people are generally more able in this duty than others; because they pray often, pray feelingly, and are well acquainted with the Bible. It may be truly said, in this case, that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.”
But though prayer is properly the language of the heart, it is not confined there; for this duty is performed by expressions solemnly addressed to the infinite God. Even in the closet, many Christians, perhaps most of them, choose to express the feelings of the heart in words. There is this advantage in it, that it tends to keep up the attention of the mind to its duty; and to im. press the heart with the subject with which it is conversant. God knows the secret wishes of the mind; but the good man finds an advantage in expressing these wishes, even when alone. That he may do this without being heard by any one, he chooses places of retirement.
In considering the nature of prayer, it is proper to observe, that it is also a social duty; to be performed in the family with a few, and in the public congregation, with the many. It is a duty of the family. Heads of families, who are really re
ligious, attend to it with seriousness and punctuality. “Let others do as they will,” said Joshua, u as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Every man ought, in some sense, to be a priest in his own house. It must be confessed to be fit, reasonable, and useful, to observe a strict religious order in our families. This part of the subject will come more immediately under consideration in the sequel. I will only say now, that praying families are generally well governed. To worship God in the morning and evening, becomes a habit, and is as much expected by your domestics as their regular meals, or their different daily occupations. And I appeal to the whole assembly, even to the most gay and thoughtless, whether it is not proper, that the God who made us, and who every moment preserves us, should be worshipped? Is it not improper and criminal to forget him, and to pass each day without becoming thoughts of God, and gratitude to him for his goodness to us? Yet many such families there are, who call not upon the Lord; in which there is no appearance of religion, or of reverence of the infinite God. Let such families remember the following awful passage : “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen, and upon the families that call not upon thy name.”
In better days, when our ancestors came to this country, and long after they had dwelt here, they were very attentive to family religion. In almost every house, prayer was wont to be made. But many of us, their degenerate descendants, not only think we know better than they, but are at times disposed to ridicule their strict attention
to religion, and brand it with the name
superstition. In this we discover our degeneracy, and that we have too far forgotten the God of our fathers; and society at large is most evidently injured by this part of our conduct. Vice and immorality uncommonly abound; and children and youth show that their religious education has been neglected. Our progress in vice has been rapid and alarming. Should we proceed in this manner, the next generation will be in a melancholy condition as to sentiments and morals.
There are indeed, and will be in every age, some persons of uniform serious character, who set their faces like a flint against corruptions of Christianity in the church, and against the prevalence of wickedness in the world. They will be useful. But it requires great love of the truth, as well as resolution, to maintain the purity of the gospel, and the self-denial of the cross, in times like the present. We bless God, at the same time, that he never leaves himself without witnesses. There always will be praying persons in the world, who will seriously walk before their families, in the fear of the Lord, or who will make their houses the places where he shall be worshipped and adored.
In considering the nature of prayer, we are to observe, that it makes a great and an important part of public worship. The primitive Christians employed their time, when together for religious purposes, “ in breaking of bread and in prayers.” To this duty Christ gave the following important encouragement: “If two of you shall agree as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.”
All religious societies, I believe, make it a part of their public or social worship. Time immemorial, they have begun and ended the sacred service with a solemn address to God. How proper it is, that we should ask divine assistance in the beginning, and solicit the blessing of God on the attempts that are made by public instruction, to make mankind wiser and better. We are taught, by an inspired writer, in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known to God.
The design and uses of prayer are to be also considered, as useful parts of the subject.
The design of prayer is not to inform Deity of our situation, because he knows what things we have need of before we ask him, he being omniscient. “ All things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do." Nor is prayer designed to prevail on God to alter his mind, or to do any thing he had not before determined to do. For “he is of one mind, and who can turn him?" With him is no variableness nor shadow of turning.
But, to come to the point, prayer, like all the other institutions of religion, is designed to promote our spiritual advantage. Considering the depravity of our hearts, and the many temptations that await us in the present life, we need continued helps in the way of duty. We want line upon line, and precept upon precept. Prayer is one of those means designed to keep up in our minds a sense of God, of our dependence on him, and gratitude to him for all the blessings that surround us. It is one of God's appointed means of carrying on the divine life in the soul. It is