« PreviousContinue »
OF THE DUTY OF PRAYER IN GENERAL.
PHILIPPIANS, Iv. 6. Be careful for nothing ; but in every thing by
prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let
your requests be made known unto God.
HITHERTO I have endeavoured to give you a full and clear explanation of the different branches of duty set forth in our Church Catechism, and which God requires of us, and which our godfathers and godmothers promised at our baptism that we should fulfil. By the discharge of these several duties we witness a true obedience to our Maker, and we acknowledge the holiness of those laws which regulate our several personal and relative duties. For this (saith St. John, 1 Ep. v. 3) is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous. Clearly they are not; for that which works no ill to pur neighbour, which keeps us pure in our own
conduct, and raises our gratitude and veneration for the Deity, must be delightful, instead of burdensome.
Love to God and man is the fulfilling of the law. But there yet remains a very important article to be known by us, in order to forward our salvation, and that is, how we are to get possession of that divine temper. If we have any just knowledge of our fallen nature, of the corrupted inheritance derived to us through the transgression of our first parents, we must be sensible that of ourselves we are not able to fulfil the law of God perfectly in all things; so far from it, that we fall very short after our best obedience; we are all unprofitable servants; there is none that doeth good, no not one.
So deplorably corrupt is human nature, and at such enmity with God, who is all purity, and cannot behold iniquity in the least degree, that the utmost exertions towards good, for the longest life, cannot free us from the title of sinners; and, as such, we need the infinite merits of Jesus Christ to save us : and for this reason it is that our holy church teaches us, at the end of each commandment, to say with becoming humility, and a deep sense, how wide we are of perfect obedience to God's law : “ Lord have mercy upon us, and incline ” our hearts to keep this law ;” that is, O Lord, be not extreme to mark what is amiss in us; but afford us power to do what is incumbent upon us, and well pleasing in thy sight.
The design of the law, that is, of all those wise and good commandments which you have heard explained to you, is to show us the holiness of God, and our own weak and sinful nature, which can no longer fulfil it without God's help. It is, as the Apostle says, a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ-it is the rule of life and conduct his blessed Gospel requires, being necessary to qualify us for a place in his future kingdom of peace and perfection; and as we find neither power nor will to effect it as we should do, but through Christ (since without him we can do nothing), so, being thoroughly convinced of our sinfulness and inability, we are inclined to trust him for salvation through the covenant of grace, by which we mean, that treaty or engagement which, on the fall of Adam, God established in his Son Jesus Christ, for the salvation of otherwise lost souls. It is called the covenant of grace, to distinguish it from the first law, or covenant of works : by that, life and happiness was promised to perfect obedience; but that being broken, and as now, from a degenerated nature, we are become children of wrath, by this we are made children of grace, or of the new covenant, which is freely given to all penitent believers for Christ's sake, and to magnify God's glory and mercy towards his creatures. But free as this grace is, which could only proceed from God's infinite love; mighty as the favour is, since it was bestowed when man was in rebellion, and at enmity with God; and absolutely necessary as it is, to enable us to do any thing acceptable to the Most High, it is still promised on conditions. The nature of all laws, or covenants, implies conditions on both sides. Do this, and live, was the first (the condition of the covenant of works). Believe, and thou shalt be saved, was the second (or condition of the Gospel). I will be their God (saith the Lord himself), and they shall be my people. By which declaration it is clear, that God will not be a father but to those who are his children indeed, not by barely calling themselves by his name, but who obey his laws : but to become so, man must have a capacity, or will, to incline him, as well as a power to assist him. With such a free-will he was endowed when first created, or he could never have fallen, for the very fall implies an abuse of the will; and therefore, upon his fall, he necessarily lost the will to do good, and nought but evil remained with him. Now, it cannot be doubted, but that, on his redemption, every necessary capacity was restored to him ; otherwise, entering into a new covenant, and proposing new conditions, is a language without a meaning. To grant this, does in no wise lessen God's mercy, power, or
wisdom; nor does it give to man any independent worth, or infer any dangerous consequence: for no creature can have any good but what it has received from the Fountain of all good. Therefore as, when God said, Let there be light, and there was light; so, when he spake the promised remedy for man's transgression or fall, he instantly renewed the capacity in him to receive and fulfil the conditions of his new covenant. He restored to him a freedom of will to comply with, or reject, the terms of his salvation : but this was wholly of his free grace or favour, and for Christ's merits' sake only (who, though not yet come in the flesh, was crucified from the foundation of the world). Man at first came perfect out of his Maker's hands, as far as the wisdom and goodness of God were concerned ; but the very notion of a creature implies weakness, and it must look up to Him who made it for support. As it is undeniably true, that without freedom of will there can be no obedience, it is consequently as necessary, man should be free now, to choose life or death, as it was at first; therefore, to justify God in his judgment, we must attribute all men's sin and condemnation to their own delinquency; and, indeed (unless it proves his own fault), man is in a safer and better state than he was before the fall, beeause Christ has now died to make full satisfaction for all original sin, and to atone for all ac