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even when the most particular and most urgent, and drawn from us by the most pressing necessity, are to be conceived and uttered under the reflection and sentiment that we are addressing a Being who knows infinitely better than we do what is best, not only for the whole world, but even for us; and further also, we may find some advantage in bearing in mind that, if prayer was suffered to disturb the order appointed by God in the universe too much or too apparently, it would introduce a change into human affairs, which, in some important respects, would be pernicious. Who, for example, would labor, if his necessities could be supplied with equal certainty by prayer ? How few would contain within any bounds of moderation those passions or pleasures which at present are checked only by fear of disease, if prayer would infallibly restore health ? In short, if the efficacy of prayer, as applicable to this life, were so constant and observable as to be relied on beforehand, and to the exclusion or diminution of our own caution, vigilance, and activity, the conduct of mankind would, in proportion to that reliance, become careless, indolent, and disorderly. However, our prayers may, in many instances, be efficacious, and yet the experience of their efficacy be doubtful and obscure ; therefore if the light of nature instruct us, by any arguments, to hope for effect from prayer; still more, if the scriptures authorize these hopes by precept, by example, or by promises of acceptance, it is not a sufficient reason for calling in question the reality of such effect that we cannot observe this reality, since it appears something more than probable that this doubt about it is necessary to the safety, and order, and happiness of human life.
We have been speaking of praying for particular favors by name, and have remarked that the scriptures authorize these prayers by example. This they do most explicitly. Hear St Paul; • For this thing,' some bodily infirmity, which he calls
a thorn given him in the flesh,' and the example applies to any other sore grief under which we labor, ' for this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.' Also, for the future success of any honest intention or just undertaking, in which we are engaged, we have the same authority for imploring, and with earnestness, the aid and blessing of God; • Night and day praying exceedingly, that we might see your face.'
Nay further, it is to be remarked, that we are not only authorized, and even directed by scripture example, to pray for particular favors by name, but to do so repeatedly and renew
edly, even in cases ultimately unsuccessful. We are to do our duty, by addressing ourselves to God under the several difficulties in which we are placed ; and having done this, to resign both ourselves and them to his disposal. I besought the Lord thrice,' saith St Paul, 'that it might depart from me.' But yet it was not departed at the time of his writing, nor have we any information that it ever did. Our Lord himself drank the fatal cup to the dregs; it did not depart from him, though his prayer surely was right, and was urged, and renewed, and reiterated, even in the same words.
But this, viz. the renewal of unsuccessful prayer, is with our Lord not only a point of practice, but of doctrine; he not only authorizes it by his example, but enjoins it by his precepts. • He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.' He would not have delivered a parable upon it if he had not meant both to authorize, recommend, and enjoin it.
But although our own distresses may both excite and justify our own prayers, yet we seem, it is said, to presume too far, when we take upon us to intercede for others, because it is allowing ourselves to suppose that we possess an interest, as it were, in the divine counsels. Turn however to the scripture, and we find intercession or prayers for others both preached and practised. Pray for one another, that ye may be healed ; the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.' God is my witness,' saith St Paul, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers. Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers for me.' St Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.' These are strong and decisive examples of intercession, and of one individual interceding for another. The largest and farthest advance in this species of worship, is when we take upon us to address the Supreme Governor of the universe for public blessings in behalf of our country, or touching the fate of nations and empires. I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. Surely this humiliating sentiment belongs to us all. Who feels not, as it were, a check to his prayers when he compares the vileness and insignificance of the petitioner, with the magnitude of the favor asked, and with the infinitely exalted nature of the being from whom we ask it ? Nevertheless, intercessions for the community, for blessings upon them, for national blessings, both natural and
civil, are amongst the conspicuous parts of both Testaments; not only in examples, which is authority, but in precepts, which is obligation. Are we, as all are, concerned that the blessings of nature may be imparted to our land? Ask ye of the Lord
• rain in the time of the latter rain ; so the Lord shall make bright clouds and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field. Or are we more especially interested in the continuance of those civil blessings, which give, even to the bounty of nature, no small share of its value and enjoyment? • I exhort that first of all supplication, prayer, intercession, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority;' and this is in order that we may lead a
a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. The meaning of this passage is clearly, Pray for them, not for their sakes, either alone or principally, but for the common happiness, that under the protection of a regular government we may practise religion and enjoy tranquillity. This is good,' saith the apostle, “and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.' O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for there is the seat of judgınent, even the seat of the house of David; for my brethren and companions' sake I will wish thee prosperity, yea, because of the house of the Lord God, I will seek to do thee good.' Jerusalem was to the Psalmist what our country is to us, the seat of his affections, his family, his brethren, and companions, his laws, religion, and his temple.
But again, must we look to seasons of calamity and visitation; have we not the father of the faithful interceding face to face with the divine messenger, for a devoted land ? let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this time.' Or rather, because the piety of the patriarch was unsuccessful, hear the leader and lawgiver of the Jewish nation effectually supplicating for his threatened and offending, but now penitent followers ; 'Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people ? remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants. And the Lord repented of the evil which he had thought to do unto his people. Or lastly, let us attend him in the most solemn of all devotions, which seem to have been performed in the history of the world; in that sublime prayer which he offered up in behalf of his country; . If they pray towards this place and confess thy name, and turn from their sin when thou afflictest them, then hear thou in heaven, thy dwellingplace; and when thou hearest, forgive; forgive the sin of thy servants and of thy people Israel, that thou teach them the good way, wherein they should walk. If thy people go out to battle against their enemy, whithersoever thou shalt send them, and shall pray unto the Lord toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for thy name, then hear thou in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.'
PROVERBS XIV. 34.
Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
THERE are many propositions, which, though they be reasonable and true in themselves, and acknowledged to be so, make very little impression upon our minds. They glide through our thoughts without effect, and without leaving a trace behind them. Yet, the selfsame propositions, when they are brought back to our reflection by any experience, or by any incident that falls under our observation, especially any in which we ourselves are concerned, shall be found to have a weight, a justice, a significancy in them which they never appeared to possess before. This seems to be the case with the words of Solomon which I have now read to you. That righteousness exalteth a nation,' is one of those moral maxims which no man chooses to contradict. Every hearer assents to it; but it is an assent without meaning; there is no value or importance or application perceived in the words. But when such things happen as have happened, when we have seen, and that at our doors, a mighty empire falling from the summit of what the world calls grandeur to the very abyss and bottom, not of external weakness, but of internal misery and distress, and that for want of virtue and of religion in the inhabitants, on one side probably as well as on the other, we begin to discover that there is not only truth, but momentous instruction in the text, when it teaches us that it is righteousness which exalteth a nation.' It is virtue, and virtue alone, which can make either nations happy or governments secure.
France wanted nothing but virtue; and by that want she fell. If the fairest region of Europe, if a numerous population, if the nominal wealth which arises from the money of a country, if large foreign possessions, if armies and fleets, if a splendid court and nobility, could have given firmness to a state, these were all possessed by her to a degree which hardly, I believe, any other nation could pretend to. Her fate, therefore, is, and ought to be, a standing lesson to the world that something more than external prosperity is necessary; and that something is, internal goodness and virtue.
I know not how I can employ the present solemn occasion, and the still more solemn admonition which the transactions that have lately gone on, and are still going on in the world, ought to convey to us, better, than by illustrating the assertion of the text, that it is by the people being good, and by that alone, that any country can be happy, or any government safe.
And first of all, I would observe to you, that whatever new opinions have sprung up in France, and of some of which they have learnt the effects by sore experience, the wisest men of the last age, in that very country, men also firmly and boldly attached to public liberty, have said this; that the principles of Christianity are more favorable to good government than any principles of any philosopher or politician can be. For the celebrated French writer to whom I allude, after stating exactly what sort of a principle was suited to a monarchy, what to an aristocracy, and what to a republic, concludes by declaring, that although there be principles proper to each form of government, the principles of the christian religion, so far as it prevailed, are better, more useful, and more effectual than them all.
And in my judgment our author, in saying that, has said no more than what reason will bear him out in.
The true Christian must be a good subject; because, having been accustomed to fix his eyes and hopes upon another world, a future state of existence, a more abiding city,' "a taberna
' cle not of this building,' his first care concerning the present state of things is to pass quietly and peaceably and innocently through it. Now this is the very disposition to be desired in human society ; it is the disposition which keeps each man in his station, and what is more, keeps him contented with it. A man upon whom Christianity hath shed this temper, can never wish for disturbance, because he cannot wish to have that calm and even course of life broken up, by going on soberly and peaceably in which, he feels himself doing his duty, and feels from thence, the highest of human satisfaction, that he is gradually making himself ready for, and advancing towards, his re