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2. A reasonable duty
[Man is a dependent creature; and it is but reasonable that he should acknowledge that dependence at a throne of grace, and ask for those mercies which he stands in need of. The very heathens have felt the propriety of supplicating their deities, and have established ordinances whereby they might conciliate the favour of their gods. It is true, that God knows our necessities before we ask: yet is it highly proper that we should spread them before him, in order that we ourselves may be humbled under a sense of them, and that God's mercy in relieving them may be more clearly seen.]
3. A necessary duty—
[Though God cannot be prevailed upon by dint of importunity, yet he has appointed prayer as the means of obtaining his blessings. He has said, "I will be inquired of to do it for them." There is no room therefore left for us to speculate upon the use of prayer: it is quite sufficient that God has required it as means to an end: and if we will not comply with his injunctions respecting it, it is utterly in vain for us to expect his blessings.]
4. An acceptable duty
[Prayer offered to the Deity without any respect to the mediation of Christ, is not acceptable: but when presented in a humble dependence on his atonement, and intercession, it comes up before God as incense, and prevails beyond the utmost extent of our conceptions. It is to prayer offered in this manner, that the promise in the text is given. And this has been the qualification of all acceptable prayer from the beginning. Abel was heard on account of his sacrifice. The penitents under the law obtained mercy in no other way. The Jews, when unable, by reason of their captivity, to offer their accustomed sacrifices, were to look towards the temple, which was a type of our incarnate Godi. And to that same Jesus must we look, trusting in him as our Advocate with the Father, and as the propitiation for our sinsk." Nor did any one ever ask in this manner without obtaining a supply of all his wants.]
To counteract the backwardness of our hearts to this duty, let us consider,
a The expressions, Luke xviii. 7, 8. must not lead us to think of God as though he were wrought upon as we are.
e Ezek. xxxvi. 37.
h Heb. ix. 22.
f ver. 23, 24.
Heb. xi. 4.
k 1 John ii. 1, 2.
II. Our encouragement to perform it—
The promise of acceptance is without any limit or exception
[There is no exception with respect to the persons who may apply to God. The vilest person in the universe, provided he ask in the manner prescribed in the text, shall be heard as readily as the very chief of the Apostles. His past iniquities, of whatever kind they have been, shall not operate as any bar to his acceptance with God
Nor is there any limit respecting the blessings we implore: provided they will really conduce to our good, and to God's glory, they shall be given. However "wide we open our mouths, God will fill them1" -The frequent and solemn repetition of this truth by our Lord himself, must of necessity remove all doubt upon the subjectm."]
And instances of its accomplishment occur in almost every page of the sacred writings
[Whether Abel's prayer was answered by fire from heaven which consumed his sacrifice, or by some other token of the Divine favour, the acceptance of it was equally manifest, and the fact is equally encouraging to us. To recount the various instances that occurred from that period to the times of Christ and his Apostles, would be a pleasing task, but would occupy many hours. Suffice it to say, that whether men's prayer has been offered for themselves" or for others, and whether it has been of a more stated and solemn kind, or only in a sudden ejaculation, it has equally prevailed; it has prevailed speedily', and to a most incredible extents; and shall yet prevail, by whomsoever it may be offered'.]
This encouragement to prayer is greatly heightened by what is added respecting,
III. The consequence of a due and acceptable performance of it
God delights in the prosperity of his people; and desires that they should be happy here, as well as in the world to come. It is with this view that he has enjoined prayer as a duty; because, when performed
1 Ps. lxxxi. 10. John xiv. 13, 14. n Jonah ii. 1, 7.
p Ps. xviii. 6.
m Matt. vii. 7, 8.
• Exod. xxxii. 11-14. Acts xii. 5-9. q Neh. ii. 4-6.
r2 Kings xx. 2, 4, 5. Dan. ix. 20, 21, 23. s Jam. v. 17, 18.
t Jam. v. 16.
aright, it is the means of filling the soul with the sublimest joy.
1. It tranquillizes the most perturbed mind
[Let a person under any sudden irritation or calamity betake himself to prayer, and he will speedily find the tempest calmed, and his agitations quieted. No other thing will operate like this. It will enable him to educe good out of every evil: it will not only blunt the edge of all his trials, but will turn his sorrows into joy ".]
2. It brings God nigh unto the soul
[God in answer to prayer will take away the veil which intercepts our views of him, and "manifest himself to us, as he does not unto the world." What an exhibition of his glory was that which he vouchsafed to Moses! What a bright display of Christ's excellency was that which the three favoured Disciples were admitted to behold on Mount Tabor! We say not indeed that any similar vision of the Father or the Son shall ever be presented to our bodily eyes: but God will certainly "shine into the hearts of those who call upon him, to give them the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ;" and will enable them to say, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ"." What ineffable delight must such manifestations bring with them!
3. It gives us an earnest and foretaste of heaven itself—
[The happiness of heaven consists in the vision and fruition of God: and this, as far as it can be enjoyed by faith, is enjoyed in prayer. There is not any one who has abounded in the performance of this duty, but has had frequent occasion, when in his closet, to exclaim with Jacob, "This is none other but the house of God, this is the gate of heaven!" In such seasons as these a man has no occasion to search out evidences of his acceptance with God, or of his title to heaven; for the very intercourse which he has with the Deity is, if we may so speak, heaven brought down to earth; it is an actual anticipation of heaven, and a pledge of his complete possession of it in due season.]
1. To those who ask without receiving
[Think not that God has violated his promise. The reason of your not receiving is, that "you ask amissa." Your petitions.
u Ps. xxx. 8-11. and xl. 1—3.
y 1 John i. 3.
x 2 Cor. iv. 6.
z Gen. xxviii. 17.
a Jam. iv. 3.
are cold, formal, hypocritical; and you have not a due respect to the name of Jesus in presenting them to God. Perform your duty as you ought, and you shall never complain of a want of acceptance in it.]
2. To those who have received answers to prayer
[Let not your communion with God puff you up with pride, but rather abase you in the dust. If once you grow vain and secure, you will provoke God to hide his face from you, and to withhold the communications of his grace. Rejoice in the glorious privileges you possess; but "rejoice with trembling."]
THE OBJECTS OF THE FATHER'S LOVE.
John xvi. 27. The Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
THE atonement and intercession of Christ are doubtless the grounds of a Christian's hope, and the richest source of his comforts: but much consolation also may be derived from the consideration of the Father's love; nor do we understand the Gospel aright, till we see that Christ himself was the gift of the Father's love, and that every blessing which we receive through Christ was prepared for us in the eternal counsels of the Father. Our Lord, solicitous to comfort his Disciples previous to his departure from them, directed their views unto the Father, assuring them, that, while they prayed to the Father in his name, they should find acceptance and support; and this too, not merely in consequence of his intercession, but also in consequence of the love which the Father himself bore towards them. In discoursing upon his words, we shall speak of,
I. The objects of the Father's love—
The description which our Lord gives of his own Disciples will characterize all his faithful followers to the end of time
They love the Lord Jesus Christ
[There is not a real Christian in the universe who does not esteem the Lord Jesus above every other being, desire him more than thousands of silver and gold, and delight in him as
the only source of true happiness. To love him more, and to serve him better, is the daily labour of his soul, and the very summit of his ambition.]
They believe in him—
[True Christians do not merely assent to this proposition, That Jesus is the Messiah; but they most cordially acquiesce in his appointment to that office; they trust altogether in his mediatorial work; and they seek to receive out of his fulness the blessings which he was sent to communicate.]
All who are of this description are, for that very reason, objects of the Father's love
[By the exercise of faith and love, they honour the Lord Jesus Christ in the world; and in so doing they honour the Father also: on this account the Father loves and honours them. We do not mean to intimate, that their graces merit the Divine favour (for " their best righteousnesses are as filthy rags b"); or that their graces are the spring and source of the Father's love (for God's love was from everlasting, and was exercised by him in a perfectly free and sovereign manner): but we say, that their exercise of faith and love is the occasion of God's manifesting his love to them. Abel's offering of a lamb, in token of his dependence on that Lamb of God which was to be slain in due time, was the occasion of God's testifying his acceptance in a visible manner; and God justified his apparent partiality, by declaring this act to have been the ground of the preference he had shewn to Abel. When Abraham also had offered up his son, God made his faith and obedience the occasion and the ground of manifesting his love to Abraham®. The Scriptures uniformly speak the same language1; nor are we in danger of erring, provided we discriminate between the meritorious ground on which God's favours are secured, and the particular occasion on which his love may be manifested.]
If we believe that any are so distinguished by the Father we cannot but wish to know,
II. The manner in which he displays his love towards them
We might easily trace this part of our subject in the experience of those to whom the words of the text were immediately addressed; but, as it is of general importance, we shall rather treat it in a way that is alike applicable to all:
a John v. 23.
b Isai. lxiv. 6.
c Jer. xxxi. 3.
e Gen. xxii. 16, 17.
d Gen. iv. 4-7. Heb. xi. 4.
f Ps. xci. 14-16.