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We know that true prayer is attended with the greatest benefits. One devout person would sometimes say to her friends, “I would not be hired out of my closet for a thousand worlds."
Some venture to say, I AM TOO WICKED TO PRAY.« The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.” Is it my duty to pray while unregenerate ? But he who thinks that he shall get rid of the duty of prayer, on account of his wickedness, does not only confess, but aggravate his guilt and his condemnation. You must not, indeed, come with the same wicked mind with which you committed your sins; but go grieved and penitent; and the sooner you go, the better. The ploughing of the wicked, all they do, is sin: and yet even a wordly man would not therefore justify them in being idle. Your neglect of prayer is perhaps the very cause of your wickedness. Begin to seek the grace of prayer, and God will give you grace to amend. It is your duty, though unregenerate, to pray, and to pray especially for a new heart. When God had promised the new heart, and the new Spirit to the Jews, he adds, • I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.” Ezek. xxxvi, 26, 37. Who more wicked than Simon Magus ? and yet the Apostle calls on him to repent and pray to God. Acts viii, 21. Your guilt should bring you to the Saviour, and not keep you from him. Will not the sick man desire to see the Physician? Is keeping at a distance, and contemptuous and negligent conduct in an offender as likely to gain the favour of him that is offended, as a humble and meek confession of fault, and entreaty for pardon ?All the practice and conduct of man, all your own erperience, all the confessions of sin, and all the petitions for mercy which are recorded in the Bible, testify against
such an idea. If your confession of wickedness be the real feeling of your heart, you see it is the very reason that you should immediately begin to meditate on your sad condition, to repent and seek God's mercy in prayer. But if it be not the feeling of your heart, this excuse for neglecting prayer needs no answer.
There are others who seem to think that all exhortations to prayer savour of LEGALITY. We are to be saved by believing, and not by working.But how gross is the mistake of such. While you account prayer to be a mere task, or a meritorious labour, you totally mistake its nature. It is a privilege and a blessing bestowed on all the children of God. We are not, it is true, saved by our prayers, but by Christ; yet we shall never be saved without prayer, for the spirit of prayer is a part of our salvation, and your living in neglect of prayer, is a positive proof, whatever your notions or fancies may be, whatever your doctrinal sentiments, that you have none of the Spirit of adoption, and do not belong to Christ. Nay, a disregard of prayer shews that you have none of the real feeling of evangelical truth, which, working by love, ever influences the soul to seek the presence of him we love.
Is there not, at the bottom of all these objections, a reason of this kind, I DISLIKE PRAYER.—It puts a restraint upon all my ways. It compels me to think of that which I had rather forget.—But what are you thus owning yourself to be? It is the character of the wicked, God is not in all his thoughts; they dislike to retain God in their knowledge. Ah! remember, at one time or other, all flesh must come before God; he now sits on a throne of
ercy; he will hereafter sit on a throne of judgment, where he will for ever condemn those who have not sought and found grace to help in time of need.
This neglect of prayer is the fault of many, but there is a generation who are righteous in their own eyes, who TRUST IN THEIR PRAYERS.—They reason, little as they think it, on the supposition that for every prayer they make, God is, as it were, so much in debt to them, and thus that by the multitude of their prayers they deserve heaven. This is a common but a strange mistake. What merit can there be in begging and seeking that, which if we obtain, lays us under increased obligation ? Israel of old followed after the law of righteousness, but did not attain it, “because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.” Is not this too much your case ? Be not mistaken; prayer is good as the means of obtaining grace; it is not good in the way of meriting any thing from God. It is not good in the way even of disposing God to give. He is even ready to give abundantly unto us, “ more ready to hear than we are to pray, and wont to give more than either we desire or deserve.” But it is good, as it is pursuing the plan which God has appointed for obtaining his blessings ;-it is good, as it is the way in which he bestows them. Renounce, then, your own righteousness, and thus humbly and believingly seek, and you shall find.
If you did but know the true character of your fancied righteousness, you would say with Isaiah, all our righteousness are as filthy rags, as a rejected garment. You would enter into the feelings of the excellent Bishop Beveridge, who declares,* “I know not how it is with others, but for my own part I do not remember, neither do I believe, that I ever prayed in my life time, with
* See Beveridge's Private Thoughis, a most useful practical Book for the young Christian.
that reverence, or heard with that attention, or did any other work, with that pure and single eye, as I ought to have done.” . Or, as he says in another place, “I do not only betray the inbred venom of my heart, by poisoning my common actions, but even my most religious performances also, with sin. I cannot pray, but I sin; I cannot hear or preach a sermon, but I sin ; I cannot give an alms, or receive the sacrament, but I sin. Nay, I cannot so much as confess my sins, but my very confessions are still aggravations of them; my repentance needs to be repented of; my tears want washing; and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer. Thus not only the worst of my sins, but even the best of my duties speak me a child of Adam. Insomuch that whenever I reflect on my past actions, methinks I cannot but look on my whole life, from the time of my conception to this very moment, to be but as one continued act of sin."
With these feelings, you would be sensible, at once, that Jesus Christ is the only and complete Saviour of sinners, and that it is only by his obedience many are made righteous. Instead of trusting in your prayers, you would mourn over their imperfections, and be led to trust simply, wholly, and entirely in Christ and him crucified. An old writer, Scudder, observes, “ God uses, when he is overcome by prayer,” (alluding to Jacob, Gen. xxxii, 28.) “ to work in them that do overcome, some sense of weakness, to let them know that they prevail with him in prayer, not by any strength of their own, nor by any worthiness of their prayers, when they have prayed best, but from the goodness of God's free grace, from the worthiness of Christ's intercession, by whom they offer up their prayers, and from the truth of his pro
mise made unto them that pray. If it were not thus, many, when they have their heart's desire in prayer, would ascribe all to the goodness of their prayers, and not to the free grace of God; and would be proud of their own strength, which is in truth none at all.”
I have thus endeavoured to shew you the nature and privilege of prayer; may you be so convinced that it is your duty, as to be desirous of farther instruction on this subject.