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force or strength sufficient to produce obedience in those who acknowledged its authority.
• To communicate this so much wanted assistance was one end and effect of Christ's coming. So it is intimated by St. Paul, “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did:” that is, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, namely, sending him by reason, or on account of sin, condemned sin in the flesh; vouch. safed, that is, spiritual aid and ability, by which aid and ability sin, and the power of sin, might be effectually opposed, encountered, and repelled.
: THE AID OF THE SPIRIT TO BE SOUGHT AND I .,' ,
PRESERVED BY PRAYER.
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?”
If it he doctrinally true, that man in his ordinary state, in that state, at least, in which great numbers find themselves, is in a deplorable condition, a condition which ought to be a subject to him of great and bitter lamentation, viz. that his moral powers are ineffectual for his duty; able, perhaps, on most occasions, to perceive and to approve of the rule of right; able, perhaps, to will it; able, perhaps, to set on foot unsuccessful, frustrated, and defeated endeavours after that will, but by no means able to pursue or execute it:if it be also true, that strength and assistance may and can be communicated to this feeble nature, and that it is by the action of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, that it is so communicated; that with this aid and assistance sin may be successfully encountered, and such a course of duty maintained, as may render us accepted in
Christ: and further, that to impart the above described assistance is one of the ends of Christ's coming, and one of the operations of his love towards mankind: if, I say, these propositions be doctrinally true, then follow from them these three practical rules: first, that we are to pray sincerely, earnestly, and incessantly for this assistance; secondly, that, by so doing, we are to obtain it; thirdly, that, being obtained, we are to yield ourselves to its agency, to be obedient to its dictates.
First: We are to pray sincerely, earnestly, and incessantly for this assistance. A fundamental, and as it seems to me, an unsurmountable text, upon this head, is our Saviour's declaration, (Luke xi. 13.) “ If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” This declaration, beside expressing. (which was its primary object,) God's benignant, prompt, and merciful disposition towards us; which here, as in other places, our Saviour compares with the disposition of a parent towards his children. Beside this, the text undoubtedly assumes the fact of there being a Holy Spirit, of its being the gift of God, of its being given to them that ask him; that these things are all realities; a real spiritual assistance, really given, and given to prayer. But let it be well observed, that whensoever the scripture speaks of prayer, whensoever it uses that term, or other terms equivalent to it, it means prayer, sincere and earnest, in the full and proper sense of these words, prayer proceeding from the heart and squl. It does not
mean any particular form of words whatever; it does not mean any service of the lips, any utterance or pronunciation of prayer, merely as such; but supplication actually and truly proceeding from the heart.Prayer may be solemn without being sincere. Every decency, every propriety, every visible mark and token of prayer may be present, yet the heart not engaged. This is the requisite which must make prayer availing: this is the requisite indeed, which must make it that, which the scripture means, whenever it speaks of prayer. Every outward act of worship, without this participation of the heart, fails, not because men do not pray sincerely, but because, in scripture sense, they do not pray at all.
If these qualities of internal seriousness and impression belong to prayer, whenever prayer is mentioned in scripture, they seem more peculiarly essential, in a case and for a blessing, purely and strictly spiritual. We must pray with the Spirit, at least when we pray for spiritual succour.
Furthermore, there is good authority in scripture, which it would carry us too widely from our subject to state at present, for persevering in prayer, even when long unsuccessful. Perseverance in unsuccessful prayer is one of the doctrines and of the lessons of . the New Testament.
But again; we must pray for the Spirit earnestly; I mean with a degree of earnestness, proportioned to
the magnitude of the request: The earnestness, with which we pray, will always be in proportion to our sense, knowledge, and consciousness of the importance of the thing which we ask. This consciousness is the source and principle of earnestness in prayer; and in this, I fear, we are greatly deficient. We do not possess or feel it in the manner, in which we ought: and we are deficient upon the subject of spiritual assistance most particularly. I fear, that many understand and reflect little upon the importance of what they are about, upon the exceedingly great consequence of what they are asking, when they pray to God, as we do in our liturgy,“ to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit;" “ to make clean our hearts within us;" “ not to take his Holy Spirit from us; to give us increase of grace; to grant that his Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”
These are momentous petitions, little as we may perceive, or think, or account of them, at the time. It has been truly said, that we are hardly ever certain of praying aright, except when we pray for the Spirit of God. When we pray for temporal blessing's, we do not know, though God does, whether we ask what is really for our good: when we ask for the assistance and sanctification of God's Spirit in the work and warfare of religion, we ask for that, which by its very nature is good, and which, without our great fault, will be good to us.