"ever? doth his promise fail for evermore ? Hath God “ forgotten to be gracious ? hath he in anger fhut up hiš « tender mercies ? Selah.” He endeavors to take fuch views of the glory and extent of divine mercy as will give him some ground of hope. He maketh fupplication with strong crying and tears. Against hope he believetli in hope ; or refolves, that if he perish, he shall perifh at the footstool of mercy. And nothing is fo proper to bring him to this resolution, nay, nothing is fufficient for that purpose, but the freeness of salvation, as it is offered in the gospel of Christ, where all confidence is derived, not from the goodness of the finner, but from the power and grace of the Saviour.

2. Another difficulty to be overcome in prayer is, a frowning Providence discouraging the mind. When this is added to the former, as they commonly go together, it augments the difficulty, and adds to the distress. When great calamities are brought upon the believer, when one stroke follows upon the back of another, when fin challenges, and Providence punishes him, he is then ini dan: ger of giving up his condition as desperate, and without remedy. .. See the reflections of Job in this ftrain, notwithstanding he is commended to us as a pattern of patience, Job xix. 8, 9, 10. “ He hath fenced up my way " that I cannot país, and he hath fet darkness in my " paths. He hath stript me of my glory, and taken the “ crown from my head. He hath destroyed me on every “ side, and I am gone : and mine hope hath he removed 6 like a tree.” ..

When the rod of correction falls heavy, the Christian finds it very difficult to believe that it comes from the love of a father, and is rather apt to tremble under it as the severity of a judge. So did Jacob himself, after all his experience, in the close of life, Gen. xlii. 36.“ And Jacob their fa. “ther said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children; “ Jofeph is not, Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin

away : all these things are against me." Sometimes the course of Providence in general has the faine effect. The prosperity and infolence of finners, the oppresled state of the children of God, the disappointed endeavors of his fervants, make them often call in question his presence, his faithfulness, or his power. This is the subject of the whole 3d Pfalm, and summed up in the roth and ith verses : « Therefore his people return hither; and waters “ of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, “ How doth God know ? and is there knowledge in the « Most High ?”

He that wrestles in prayer, therefore, considers the depth of Divine Providence with reverence. He dwells upon the wisdom and power of God, who alone can bring light out of darkness, and order out of confufion. He taketh hold of his covenant, and the sure and everlasting mercy that is contained in it, and humbly and earnestly prays for universal and absolute resignation to the divine will. This, my brethren, is one of the greatest and most important objects of prayer, and what believers should wrestle for with the greatest fervor and importunity. They fhould cry mightily to God, and expoftulate earnestly with their own hearts, as the Psalmist, Pf. xlii. 9, 10, 11. “I “ will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten

me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the 4 enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies " reproach me: .while they say daily unto me, Where is " thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul ? and * why art thou disquieted within me ? hope thou in God, “.for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my coun. “ tenance, and, my God." I am not here to go through all the grounds of encouragement on which the suffering and pleading believer may place his dependence, drawn from the perfections of an unchangeable God, from the power of a Saviour upon a throne, from the precise and express promises in scripture of support or deliverance, and the daily experience of the faithful. It is sufficient that I have pointed out to you the state and practice of a clistressed and afflicted Christian wrestling with God.

3 Another difficulty often arises from unbelieving thoughts, and inward temptations distressing the spirit. Prayer takes its rise from and is carried on by faith. Prayer indeed is little else than the immediate and lively exerçife of faith : Heb. xi. 6. « For he that cometh to God, “ must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of “ them that diligently seek him.” On this account, dutiful and acceptable prayer is called the prayer of faith. Who would apply, or who can apply, to God, for any mercy, but from a persuasion, that he is prefent to hear, and that he is able and willing to bestow ? Now, when this faith begins to fail, either from its natural weakness, froin our finful negligence, from the subtle infinuations, or the more violent assaults of the adversary of our fal. vation, it must be a great hindrance to the exercise of prayer. · Many are the difficulties of this kind which the Chriftian, from time to time, hath to struggle with. Sometimes he is made to doubt of the certainty, and sometimes of the meaning, of the promises. We fee fome distressed perfons so embarrassed with fcruples, or so misled by controversy, as to lose the relish and spiritual comfort of the word of God, while they are contending about it. Sometimes they are made to doubt their own title to apply the promises, which appear like a rich and sumptuous table, en." compassed with a faming sword, forbidding their approach Thus they are led away from the consolation of Israel, and made to seek in vain for a foundation of comfort in themfelves. How often do we see, that the very sense of sin, and fear of danger, the very misery and neceffity which particularly discover the fitness and excellence of the truths of the everlasting gospel, are made use of to discou-' rage us from embracing them!

Sometimes the truths themselves are perverted, or set in opposition one to another, and mutually destroy each other's influence. Thus, while the constant and over. ruling providence of God should be the great foundation both of our faith and prayer, it is sometimes set in oppofition to both. The false reasoner will say to himself, Why should I pray for deliverance from this diftrefs ? why should I pray or hope for the possession of such a mercy? The whole order and course of events is fixed and unalterable. If it is appointed to happen, it shall happen, whether I speak or be filent; if it is otherwise determined, the prayers of the whole creation will not be able to obtain it.

How unhappily do men thus reason themselves out of their own peace! not considering the unspeakable absurdity of making our weak and imperfect conceptions of the nature and government of God to stand in opposition to his own express command. The influence of second causes, moral as well as natural, is a matter of undeniable experience. If you acknowledge it in the one, should you deny it in the other? Is not intemperance the cause of disease? is not flothfulness the way to poverty ? is not neglected tillage the cause of a barren field ? and is not restraining prayer also the way to barrenness of spirit ? Believe it, my brethren, fervent prayer is as sure and effectual a mean of obtaining those mercies which may be lawfully prayed for, as plowing and fowing is of obtaining the fruits of the ground.

Again, sometimes by the cunning of Satan, the believer is driven to the brink of the precipice, and made to doubt of the very being of God, and the reality of all religion. It is cafy to fee, that this must wholly take away the ne. ceflity and use of prayer. But even when it is not fo powerful as to prevent the practice, yet doth it, in a great meafure, cool the fervor and destroy the comfort of prayer. He that wrestles with God has often these difficulties, in a greater or lesser clegree, to struggle with. Some of them it is his duty to oppofe by reason, and some of them directly and immediately to resist and banish as temptations; and I think an exercised Christian will usually make the mat. ter of his complaint the subject of his prayer. This is indeed defeating the tempter with his own weapons: it is bringing sweetness out of the strong, and meat out of the eater, when the difficulties thrown in the way of our prayers serve to excite us to greater ardor, importunity, and frequency in that necessary and profitable exercise. . . 4. Another difficulty with which the believer hath to struggle, is the coldnels and slothfulness of his own heart. This is as great a hindrance of prayer as any that hath been named; and I believe it is of all others the moft common and prevalent. At the same time it affords a very mortifying view of our own character and state. Strange indeed! that when we consider the great and eternal God with

Vol. I.

4 F

, probabilothfulnequenc

whom we have to do, we should find so much difficulty in maintaining a serious and attentive frame of spirit! that when we lie under fo great and unspeakable obligations to his mercy, our sense of gratitude should be so weak and languis! that when we have blessings to ask of so inestimable value, we alioull notwithstanding do it with so much indifference! And what is stranger fuill, are there not many who have tasted, in some degree, the sweetness and confolation of communion with God, and yet are ready to return to a state of coldness and negligence!

I am persuaded I need not tell any serious person in this assembly the cianger or frequency of the Chriftian's being fcized with a slothfulneis, coldness, or security of Ipirit. It is probable many are at this moment inwardly alhame on being thus barely put in mind of it. How often is it the reproach and stain of all our worship, in public, in family, and in secret! how easily do we dege. nerate into a form! how hardly is the spirit and affection kept alive! How many are there over whom conscience has so much power, that they neither dare absent themfeives from public ordinances, nor discontinue the form os secret duty; and yet they may continue long in a heartlels, lifeless, and unprofitable attendance upon both! Times of deep conviction, of heavy affliction, or harasfing temptation, are more distressing; but they are not so in naring, as this leprosy that creeps upon us in a season of quiet and serenity. The other difficulties, if I may speak fo, foree us to wrestle with them, because they leave us no peace; but this tempts us to Git still under it, because it gives us no disturbance.

He that wrestles with God in prayer, then, must maintain a conflict with the slothsulness of his own spirit, and endeavor to preserve that vigor and fervency of affection fo necessary to the right performance of the duty. You will fay, perhaps, With what propriety is this called wrest. ling with God? it is rather wrestling with himself. But when we consider, that every gracious disposition must come down from above, from the Father of lights, and author of every good and perfect gift; and, in particular, that the spirit of prayer is one of his most precious and

« VorigeDoorgaan »