Page images
PDF
EPUB

1

God of our wants, ought to be viewed as a wise and gracious expedient, to impress upon our minds a feeling sense of our manifold wants and necessities, which are all well known unto God, and of his ability and willingness to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.

2. Another objection against the efficacy of prayer, has been drawn from the immutability of the divine nature. No petitions of ours, it has been said, can ever change Him, with whom there, is no variableness nor shadow of turning.

But, though prayer produces no change in God, it may, through the promised influences of his grace, change the temper and dispositions of our minds, and prepare us for the reception of those blessings which he has promised to those who call upon him in sincerity and truth. The change, then, is not in God, but in ourselves. God still acts according to his eternal mind, which is unchangeably determined to love righteousness, and to hate iniquity; and, when our minds are brought into a conformity to his, we stand in a different relation to him than when we were enemies to him in our minds, and by wicked works. We are translated from darkness to light, and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God's dear Son, In consequence of this change in the temper and disposition of our minds, and in the relation which we stand in to God, we cannot err in our choice, for God himself is the supreme object of it; nor in the things which we ask in subordination to this, for they are such things only as are agreeable to his will. And so

far is the immutability of the divine nature from presenting any reasonable objection to the practice of this duty, that it ought to be regarded as the strongest possible encouragement to continue instant in prayer, and to watch thereunto with all

perseverWere He not the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever, prayer commanded to-day, might be forbidden to-morrow; and what we now ask for, as agreeable to the will of God, with the certain assurance of being heard, might hereafter be refused, as contrary to his pleasure, and hurtful to ourselves. The government of the world would be a government of fickleness and caprice, and all things would be thrown into disorder and confusion. The immutability of God is, therefore, indispensable to the glory of his character. It is the corner-stone on which the universe rests. And instead of affording any objection, or discouragement, to the duty of prayer, it establishes it upon immoveable foundations.

3. Another objection, connected with the former, which dwells upon some minds of a serious cast, and which, therefore, deserves more consideration, is, that as every event is fore-ordained, it is vain for us to imagine, that God's eternal purposes can be reversed; or, that he will depart from his system in the government of the universe, in order to gratify our desires.

Let us apply this mode of reasoning to the ordinary affairs of life, and its fallacy will at once appear. All the events of Providence, from the greatest to the least, take place according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. This is a truth which every person, who reasons correctly from such passages of scripture as the following, will readily admit. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. He hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth ; and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. A sparrow falleth not to the ground without his knowledge, and the hairs of our heads are all numbered.

Now, what practical conclusions do men draw from hence, in the ordinary departments and duties of life? Do they refer to God's secret purpose, and wait for a discovery of it, in forming and prosecuting any enterprize in which they embark? Do they not uniformly acknowledge their ignorance of what God has determined in any particular case? And yet, with such confessed ignorance of what the event may be, are they not perfectly satisfied, that, if they wish to succeed in what they have in view, it behoves them to employ such means as they conceive to be best adapted for that end? And what is thus founded on reason, we find confirmed by scriptural authority: for we are therein taught to consider it as the proper exercise of faith, and highly becoming the character of rational accountable beings, implicitly to follow the directions of God's revealed will, though perfectly unacquainted with the object of his secret purpose, or the ultimate destination of his providence. And thus we find, that Abraham's conduct is highly commended, in that, being called to go out into a

place which he should afterwards receive for an inheritance, he obeyed, and went out, not knowing whither he went. In like manner did the great apostle of the Gentiles manifest his obedience to the will of God, when he went up to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that should befal him.

Now, the great duties of personal religion rest on a ground of obligation similar to that of all the ordinary duties of life: and on the same principle on which the farmer acts, when he plows his ground and sows his seed, we are morally obliged to improve all the means and ordinances of religion; with this difference, that we have much higher and more certain grounds of encouragement to determine our conduct in the pursuit of spiritual and heavenly objects, than men can possibly have in the pursuit of any secular advantage.

The husbandman, who is careful to improve his seasons, and who labours with commendable diligence in tilling and sowing his fields, does not act upon an absolute certainty of reaping an abundant harvest. The manufacturer and the merchant have no absolute certainty that their plans of business shall succeed. They have no more command over the political arrangements of the world to favour their enterprize, and crown their labours with success, than the farmer has over the sun, to cause him to emit his enlivening rays, or over the rain, to make it seasonably descend, and bring forward to maturity the seed which he has sown. Yet, in each of these cases, and in every other in which men's temporal interests are concerned, they feel themselves obliged to use their best endeavours, in pursuit of such objects as they wish to obtain.

Let us then fairly and impartially consider how the matter stands in regard to prayer, and the other means of grace which God has appointed to be observed, in order to our obtaining the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.

The objection which we are considering supposes, that as God works all things in time, according to the counsel of his will from eternity, we are to estimate our duty, and to regulate our conduct towards him, not by his revealed will, but by a regard to his secret purpose. Is it possible for us to do this? or should we be justified, on any common principles of action, if we should attempt it? We certainly should not: for secret things belong unto the Lord; but those things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children. We can have no previous knowledge of what God has purposed concerning us individually.—“ The purpose of God, considered absolutely, or in itself;" as Dr. Owen justly remarks, " is no part of his revealed will. It is the guide of his own actions, but not the measure of ours. We know it not, but in its effects : we cannot know it: it is not our duty to know it; yea, it is our sin to enquire into it. It may, indeed, seem to some, like the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to be pleasant to the eye, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, as all forbidden things seem to the carnal mind, but men can gather no fruit on it but death."-But, in the gospel, God has graciously given us a rule of duty how we

« PreviousContinue »