Page images

free agency; and it makes no difference which we can understand, whether the necessity be internal or external, or that the rule is the rule of perfect rectitude.

But efficacy is ascribed to prayer without the proof, we are told, which can alone in such a subject produce conviction,-the confirmation of experience. Concerning the appeal to experience, I shall content myself with this remark, that if prayer were suffered to disturb the order of second causes appointed in the universe too much, or to produce its effects with the same regularity that they do, it would introduce a change into human affairs, which in some important respects would be evidently for the worse. Who, for example, would labour, if his necessities could be supplied with equal certainty by prayer? How few would contain within any bounds of moderation those passions and pleasures, which at present are checked only by disease, or the dread of it, if prayer would infallibly restore health? In short, if the efficacy of prayer were so constant and observable as to be relied upon beforehand, it is easy to foresee that the conduct of mankind would, in proportion to that reliance, become careless and disorderly. It is possible, in the nature of things, that our prayers may, in many instances, be efficacious, and yet our experience of their efficacy be dubious and obscure. Therefore, if the light of nature instruct us by any other arguments to hope for effect from prayer; still more, if the Scriptures authorize these hopes by promises of acceptance; it seems not a sufficient reason for calling in question the reality of such effects, that our observations of them are ambiguous; especially since it appears probable, that this very ambiguity is necessary to the hapiness and safety of human life.

But some, whose objections do not exclude all prayer, are offended with the mode of praying in use amongst us, and with many of the subjects which are almost universally introduced into public worship, and recommended to private devotion. To pray for particular favours by name, is to dicitate, it has been said, to Divine wisdom and goodness to intercede for others, especially for whole

nations and empires, is still worse; it is to presume that we possess such an interest with the Deity, as to be able, by our applications, to bend the most important of his counsels; and that the happiness of others, and even the prosperity of communities, is to depend upon this interest, and upon our choice. Now, how unequal soever our knowledge of the Divine economy may be to the solution of this difficulty, which requires perhaps a comprehension of the entire plan, and of all the ends, of God's moral government, to explain satisfactorily, we can understand one thing concerning it,—that it is, after all, nothing more than the making of one man the instrument of happiness and misery to another; which is perfectly of a piece with the course and order that obtain, and which we must believe were intended to obtain, in human affairs. Why may we not be assisted by the prayers of other men, who are beholden for our support to their labour? Why may not our happiness be made in some cases to depend upon the intercession, as it certainly does in many, upon the good offices, of our neighbours? The happiness and misery of great numbers we see oftentimes at the disposal of one man's choice, or liable to be much affected by his conduct; what greater difficulty is there in supposing, that the prayers of an individual may avert a calamity from multitudes, or be accepted to the benefit of whole communities?


Of the duty and efficacy of prayer as represented in Scripture.

THE reader will have observed, that the reflections stated in the preceding chapter, whatever truth and weight they may be allowed to contain, rise many of them no higher than to negative arguments in favour of the propriety of addressing pray. er to God. To prove that the effiacy of prayers is not inconsistent with the attributes of the Deity, does not prove that prayers are actually efficacious: and in the want of that unequivocal testimony,

[merged small][ocr errors]

which experience alone could afford to this point, (but which we do not possess, and have seen good reason why we are not to expect,) the light of nature leaves us to controverted probabilities, drawn from the impulse by which mankind have been almost universally prompted to devotion, and from some beneficial purposes, which, it is conceived, may be better answered by the audience of prayer than by any other mode of communicating the same blessings. The revelations which we deem authentic, completely supply this defect of natural religion. They require prayer to God as a duty; and they contain positive assurance of its efficacy and acceptance. We could have no reasonable motive for the exercise of prayer, without believing that it may avail to the relief of our wants. This belief can only be founded, either in a sensible experience of the effect of prayer, or in promises of acceptance signified by Divine authority. Our knowledge would have come to us in the former way, less capable indeed of doubt, but subjected to the abuses and inconveniences briefly described above; in the latter way, that is, by authorized significations of God's general disposition to hear and answer the devout supplications of his creatu res, we are encouraged to pray, but not to place such a dependance upon prayer as might relax other obligations, or confound the order of events and of human expectations.

The Scriptures not only affirm the propriety of prayer in general, but furnish precepts or examples which justify some topics and some modes of prayer that have been thought exceptionable. And as the whole subject rests so much upon the foundation of Scripture, I shall put down at length texts applicable to the five following heads to the duty and efficacy of prayer in general; of prayer for particular favours by name; for public national blessings; of intercession for others; of the repe. tition of unsuccessful prayers.


1. Texts enjoining prayer in general: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find.-If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give good things to them th

ask him ?"-" Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all those things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." Serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer."-" Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.""I will, therefore, that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting."" Pray without ceasing." Matt. vii. 7. 11.; Luke xxi. 36.; Rom. xii. 12.; Philip. iv. 6.;

Thes. v. 17.; 1 Tim. ii. 8. Add to these, that Christ's reproof of the ostentation and prolixity of pharisaical prayers, and his recommendation to his disciples, of retirement and simplicity in theirs, together with his dictating a particular form of pray er, all presuppose prayer to be an acceptable and availing service.

2. Examples of prayer for particular favours by name: "For this thing" (to wit, some bodily infir mity, which he calls a thorn given him in the flesh') "I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me."-" Night and day praying exceedingly, that we might see your face, and perfec that which is lacking in your faith." 2 Cor. xi. S. 1 Thess. iii. 10.

3. Directions to pray for natural or public bless ings: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Ask ye of the Lord rain, in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.""I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men ; for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." Psalm cxxii. 6.; Zech. x. 1. ; 1 Tim. ii. 1—3.

4. Examples of intercession, and exhortations to intercede, for others :-" And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people? Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his

people."-"Peter, therefore, was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him."-" For God is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers."-"Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me, in your prayers for me."-"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Exod. xxxii. 11.; Acts xii, 5.; Rom. i. 9. xv. 30. ; James v. 16.

5. Declarations and examples authorizing the repetition of unsuccessful prayer: "And he spake a parable unto them, to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint."-" And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words."-" For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me." Luke xviii. 1.; Matt. xxvi. 44. ; 2 Cor. xii. 8.*


private prayer, family prayer, and public worship. CONCERNING these three descriptions of devo tion, it is first of all to be observed, that each has its separate and peculiar use; and therefore, that the exercises of one, species of worship, however regular it be, does not supersede, or dispense with, the obligation of either of the other two.

I. Private prayer is recommended for the sake of the following advantages:

*The reformed churches of Christendom, sticking close in this article to their guide, have laid azide prayers for the dead, as anthorized by no precept or precedent found in Scripture. For the same reason they properly reject the invocation of saints; as also because such invocations suppose in the saints whom they address, a Bowledge which can perceive what passes in different regions of Se earth at the same time. And they deem it too much to take for granted, without the smallest intimation of such a thing in Scripthre, that any created being possesses a faculty little short of filst chige and presence which they afcribe to the Deity..

« PreviousContinue »