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MATTHEW, vi. 9.
Our Father, who art in heaven.
PRAYER is one of the most reasonable and important duties which we owe to our Creator. It is reasonable, because our existence, and all our happiness, depend on his will; and it is important, because the sincere and enlightened use of it evinces piety, and is indispensable to the enjoyment of the Divine favoúr. In the Holy Scriptures we are furnished with many impressive examples of this sacred exercise, illustrative of those passages in which true religion is described as, “walking with God," and having “our fellowship" with him. The Book of Psalms, in a great variety of instances,
places this duty in a most affecting and interesting light, and induces us to infer, from the holy emotions which glow in almost every line of its sacred pages, that prayer is not a cold and vapid ceremony, but the sincere and fervent expression of our desires before God.
The portion of scripture which stands at the head of this discourse, is the first sentence of a form of prayer which our Lord prescribed to his disciples; and which, for its just arrangement, its brevity, its comprehensiveness, and its adaptation to the wants of mankind, is unequalled. With respect to forms of prayer, it is well known, that, previously to the incarnation, they were generally adopted by the Jewish nation; but whether any one form universally obtained, is a very questionable point. The Rabbins, indeed, allege, that Ezra, during the captivity, composed eighteen prayers, and compelled the Israelites to learn and repeat them every day; but, while it is admitted, that the prayers which are still in use among the Jews, are of considerable antiquity, very little reliance is to be placed on any testimony that would assign them an earlier date than that of the destruction of Jerusalem. The fact appears to be this; that, as several forms of prayer were extant prior to that time, every religious teacher made such selections from them as suited his own views, and then presented them to his followers as a manual of devotion. It was in conformity to this usage, that John the Baptist is supposed to have given a directory to his disciples; and that Jesus Christ taught his apostles to offer those admirable petitions which are to be the ground-work of the ensuing discourses.
Some persons, from a very laudable attachment to this prayer, think proper to use it in all their devotions; while others, who have no less reverence for it, regard it only as a plan for a more extended prayer,--an outline, which we are at liberty to fill up agreeably to our feelings, or to the nature and variety of our wants.
The arguments which are urged by the advocates of either of these opinions deserve consideration ; but, to enter into the controversy, here, would answer no valuable end. Indeed, on a question of this nature, which has no connexion with any principle of vital importance, it is incumbent on Christians, of different persuasions, to exercise liberality, and to cultivate with each other that spirit of union and fellowship which ought ever to accompany an agreement in the grand essentials of inspired truth. The great consideration is this,-that neither a studied address, however correct, nor an extemporaneous address, however eloquent, constitutes acceptable prayer, if our petitions ascend not from our hearts, accompanied with faith, humility, contrition, and fervour.
Our meditations, at this time, are to be restricted to the invocation,--the first sentence of this Divine model, -- "Our Father, who art in heaven.” To encourage our approaches to the throne of grace, these words supply us,
I. With a very tender and interesting view of the Supreme Being; and,
II. With some important notices of his perfections, which are particularly calculated to strengthen our affiance in his paternal good
I. Our attention is to be directed to a very tender and interesting view of the Supreme Being
There is something in the parental relation, which awakens a much higher interest than any other; because it is the spring of that unabating solicitude, and of that resolute guardianship, which diffuse order, and a feeling of security and comfort, through all classes of the animal world. The law by which the numerous kinds of sensitive beings are continued, would have left their welfare in a worse than doubtful state, had it not been associated with another law,the law of affection, so powerful in the parent's breast. The eagle stirreth up her nest, and fluttereth over her young; the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; and the fierce inhabitants of the forest wander through the tempests of midnight, to procure food for their offspring. But this principle is not to be regarded as peculiar to irrational creatures ; it is also a constituent part of human nature. The affection which we feel for our children is not produced by long and laboured reasonings; it rises spontaneously in our bosoms; it clings to the beloved objects as soon as they begin to exist; it guards their infancy with sleepless anxiety; observes the first efforts of their minds with inquisitive partiality; shares in their joys; weeps over their sorrows; exults in the indications of amiableness, and bleeds for their faults. It is by this instinctive passion, --this feeling which is entwined with every chord of a parent's heart, that the High and Holy One expresses his regard for his people. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.”,