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“ 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 believeth in hope ; or resolves, that if he perish, he fhall perifh at the footstool of mercy. And nothing is so 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 diftrefs.
When great calamities are brought upon the believer, when one stroke follows upon the back of another, when fm challenges, and Providence punishes him, he is then in danger of giving up his condition as desperate, and without remedy... See the reflections of Job in this ftrain, not withstanding 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 feverity 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 opprefled flate of the children of God, the disappointed endeayors of his fervants, make them often call in question his presence, his faithfulness, or his power. This is the subject of the whole 73d Pfalm, and summed up in the roth and 11th 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 confusion. 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 Pfalmist, Pf. xlii. 9, 10, 11. “I “ will say unto God my rock, Why haft thou forgotten
me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the
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 fupport 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 distressed 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, duti. ful 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 salvation, 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 scruples, or fo 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, encompassed with a flaming 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 them. felves. How often do we fee, that the very sense of sin, and fear of danger, the very misery and necessity which particularly discover the fitness and excellence of the truths of the everlasting gospel, are made use of to discourage 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 overruling 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 distress? why should I pray or hope for the possession of fuch a mercy? The whole order and course of events is fixed and unalterable. If it is appointed to happen, it shall happen, whether I fpeak 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. ceffity and use of prayer. But even when it is not so powerful as to prevent the practice, yet doth it, in a great measure, 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 oppose by reason, and fome of them directly and immediately to resist and banifh as temptations; and I think an exercised Christian will usually make the matter of his complaint the subject of his prayer. This is indeed defeating the tempter with his own weapons: it is bringing fweetness 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 most 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
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 io his mercy, our sense of gratitude should be so weak and languis! that when we have blessings to ask of so inestimable value, we ilould notwithstanding do it with so much indisserence! And what is stranger still, are here not many who have tasted, in some degree, the sweetnels 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 danger or frequency of the Christian's being seized with a slothfulness, coldness, or security of spirit. It is probable many are at this moment inwardly alhamed 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 degenerate 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 o secret duty; and yet they may continue long in a heartless, lifeless, and unprofitable attendance upon both! Times of deep conviction, of heavy aflliction, or harasfing temptation, are more distresing; but they are not so infnaring, as this leprosy that creeps upon us in a season of quiet and serenity. The other difficulties, if I may fpeak so, foree us to wrestle with them, because they leave us no peace; but this tempts us to Gt ftill 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 fpirit, and endeavor to preserve that vigor and fervency of affection fo necessary to the right performance of the duty. You will say, perhaps, With what propriety is this called wrestling 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