grace in our hearts, and the language of this transcendent prayer on our lips. Never can we plead want of time and leisure as an excuse for omitting our prayers, as long as we have sufficient of both to repeat the Lord's prayer; concise, yet comprehensive; omitting in its short, but weighty sentences nothing that is necessary for the glory of God, and the temporal and eternal welfare of man. Such a prayer as this may be used at all times, and in all places and circumstances, and he who takes such an advantage of its convenient brevity, may truly be said to comply with the Apostle's injunction in the text, to pray without ceasing. · And this leads me in the

II. Second place, to point out the extent to which the duty of prayer may and ought to be carried. “ Pray without ceasing.”

This, and other modes of expression in scripture, it is evident on the first view, must not be taken in their literal meaning. To do so, would be not only to make scripture contradict reason, but to set scripture against itself. The Apostle, undoubtedly, my brethren, had great things in his eye when he delivered this solemn precept. He intended, doubtless, that Christians should not only soar a higher flight in prayer, than the generality of men are apt to imagine; but that we should also take shorter and more frequent excursions. If prayer be a duty of the first importance, as I have endeavoured to show, the same reasons that make it such, render it also necessary that it be performed constantly, as well as devoutly. Collecting, therefore, the several particulars which may fairly be said to be comprised in the meaning of the Apostle, I observe, that by praying without ceasing, we are commanded to take every advantage, not only of stated and proper occasions for this exercise, but that we are also to look out for occasions in which to say our prayers, in addition to those regularly recurring seasons which nature teaches man ordinarily to devote to it. Look out for occasions did I say? To a truly pious, contemplative mind, a soul possessed with a constant sense of the divine goodness and omnipresence, to a soul which is taught of God, to look upon this world as a passage to a better, and the fashion thereof, as quickly passing away ; to such a person, occasions for prayer are never wanting ; he extracts its sweetness from the bitterest dispensation, and in the true spirit of devotion he can say, in every circumstance that happens to him, in trouble and in joy, “ surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the

Lord for ever.'” Such a one wants not occasions for prayer. Everything around him affords occasion.

The generality, however, of professing Christians have need to be reminded, that it is their duty to pray not only at those peculiar seasons when they are commanded to resort, for this purpose, to the congregation of the faithful; but also at their own houses, both in their families, and in their closets, the spirit of prayer is to be maintained : and, if they would do it with effect, and come nearer to the Apostle's injunction, they will pour out their hearts to God in prayer, not merely at night and morning, when they lie down and when they rise up; but also, at some third, and intermediate time of the day. They will reap both pleasure and profit, by thus connecting as it were, the two extremes, into one continued and sustained offering of prayer and thanksgiving. This at least was the practice of the pious psalmist—" at morning and evening, and at noon day, will I pray, and that instantly."

But just as is the above inference from the words of the text, I must proceed to remark, that it still falls short of that perfect standard of devotion to which the Apostle would have the Christian aspire. To pray without ceasing, supposes something more than even an exemplary conformity to times and seasons. The truth is, prayer is not merely, or so much, an exercise, though often repeated, as it is a habit. Hence it is not tied down to times or places. Numberless as are the events, the circumstances, the casualties of this mortal life; even so number less are the opportunities for prayer. In short, as I have before observed, there is no emergency which may not properly call it forth. And even supposing no actual emergency, still living as we do in an ensnaring world, surrounded as we are by numberless hidden dangers, and threatened by numberless unforeseen events, habitual prayer becomes absolutely necessary, that we may not fall a prey to any of these. It was with strict reference to this state of things, and well knowing that though the spirit may be willing to do what is right, and to avoid the snare laid for it, the flesh is nevertheless weak, that our blessed Lord pronounced those memorable words, “ watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation!” The same causes that exist for watchfulness, the same there are for prayer. What those causes are, the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, lays down in his instructions to the church militant. « For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, not merely with fleshly

adversaries, or the carnal principle within us, which so constantly and subtly warreth against the spirit, and enslaves our better desires and resolutions; not merely with the remaining corruptions of animal nature, which often, alas! give us such painful exercise; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

And after having completely equipped the christian soldier, before he dismisses him to the field, like a prudent general he gives him the following watch-word, or passport, as that without which his safety in the hour of temptation would be still incomplete, the victory still doubtful: “ praying always with all prayer


supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.” Hence we arrive at the true sense of the text. If watchfulness, unceasing watchfulness, be a necessary, an indispensable requisite, if we would guard against hidden and uncertain dangers ; unceasing prayer is not less necessary and indispensable for the same reason; both being in numerous passages of scripture joined together.

« VorigeDoorgaan »