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will,” just so far it necessarily implies our design and desire of moving God to bestow the favors we request. There are no two words in our language more nearly synonymous, than praying and pleading. And since praying always implies pleading, it must necessarily imply a desire and design of moving God to show mercy.
2. It appears from the prayers of good men, which are recorded in scripture, that they meant to move God to grant their petitions. Abraham's intercession for Sodom carries this idea. He earnestly desired and prayed that God would graciously spare that degenerate city. And he was so fervent and importunate in his addresses to the Deity, that he apologized for his importunity." Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak.”
" And he continued to apologize, until he made his last and smallest request. “Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but this once.” Such great importunity in prayer plainly supposes that Abraham meant to move the Supreme Being to spare those guilty creatures for whom he entreated. Jacob wrestled all night with God in prayer, and humbly, though confidently, said, " I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” We must conclude from this that he meant to move God to grant him a blessing. Job had the same design in praying to God. “Oh!” said he," that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my speech before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.” And what a variety of arguments did Daniel use, to prevail upon God to grant pardon and deliverance to his covenant people! He prayed in this fervent and importunate strain : “ Now, therefore, O my God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake; O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name; for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thy name's sake, O my God; for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” Why should Daniel use so many arguments with God, and plead with so much fervor and importunity, unless he desired and intended to move his compassion towards his people, and incline him to work their deliverance? No men ever understood the nature and design of prayer better than Abraham, Job, and Daniel. And since these eminent saints evidently meant, by their fervent and importunate supplications, to move God to show mercy, we may justly conclude this to be a proper end to be proposed in praying. Indeed, it is much to be doubted whether any good men ever did call upon God with freedom and fervency, without an ardent desire of moving God to grant their requests. This is so essential to prayer, that no pious person, perhaps, would know how to order his speech before God, if this were to be excluded from his petitions. And, though some good men may think that they ought not to indulge a desire of moving God to show mercy, yet we believe, if they would examine their own feelings, they would find that they never have been able to pray in sincerity, without indulging and expressing such a reasonable desire.
3. The friends of God are urged to pray with fervency and importunity, in order to move the divine compassion. This seems to be the spirit of the prophet's exhortation to the saints in bis day: “ Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” God is pleased to represent
a himself as greatly influenced, by the prayers of good men. To them he says, “ Concerning my sons, and concerning my daughters, command ye me.” Again he says, “ Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be towards this people." And he conveys the same idea in stronger terms still.“ Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in the land, they should deliver neither sons nor daughters, but only themselves.”. These modes of expression clearly and forcibly imply the prevailing influence of prayer upon the heart of the Deity. Christ likewise illustrates and inculcates the energy of prayer, by the parable of the unjust judge and importunate widow. “ And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge which feared not God, neither regarded man. And there was a certain widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you he will avenge them speedily.” The plain and obvious design of this parable is, to represent the powerful influence of pious and persevering prayer, to move God to pity and relieve his friends in distress. And agreeably to this, the apostle James expressly declares that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Indeed, the whole tenor of scripture encourages saints to call upon God, with desires and hopes of moving his compassion. It is still farther to be observed,
4. That the prayers of good men have actually prevailed upon God to grant great and signal favors. When the children of Israel had made a molten image, God was highly displeased, and felt disposed to destroy them. But Moses prayed, and his prayers prevailed upon God to spare the idolaters. This appears from the account which Moses gives of that memorable event. And the Lord said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from hence; for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image. Farthermore the Lord spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiff necked people: Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they. So I turned and came down from the mount. And I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I did neither eat bread nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you. But the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also." It is here plainly intimated that the prayers of Moses, once and again, moved God to bestow great and undeserved favors. The prayer of Joshua moved God to stop the course of nature, and cause the sun and moon to stand still, while he completed his victory over the enemies of Israel. The prayers of Job moved God to forgive the folly and presumption of his three friends, who had reproached both him and his Maker. David prevailed upon God, by his humble and fervent prayer, to countermand the angel, who stood with a drawn sword over
а Jerusalem, to destroy it.
Samuel often interceded and prevailed with God, to spare and bless his rebellious people. Though Elijah was an imperfectly righteous man, yet his effectual fervent prayers availed much, to bring and to remove divine judgments. The apostle gives this account of the man, and of his prayers.
“ Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain ; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” It was the well known influence of Elijah's prayers, in moving God to smile or frown upon his people, that extorted the significant and pathetic exclamation of Elisha, when he saw him gloriously ascending to heaven. “My father, my father, the chariot of Ísrael and the horsemen thereof!” We have another instance of the prevail
ing influence of prayer, in the conduct of the primitive christians. While Peter was in prison, the church prayed incessantly for him, and at length preyailed. For in answer to their prayers, God miraculously loosed his bands, and set him at liberty. These effects of prayer, in connection with the other considerations which have been suggested, afford sufficient evidence, that it is the design of prayer to move God to bestow favors.
But now some may be ready to ask, How can this be? How can prayer have the least influence to move the heart of God, who is of one mind, and with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning?
Here we ought to consider, in the first place, that the prayers of good men are proper reasons why an infinitely wise and good Being should grant their requests. The entreaties and tears of Joseph were proper reasons why his brethren should have spared him from the pit; and they were finally constrained to acknowledge the force of those reasons. “They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us; and we would not hear.” The cries of the poor and needy are proper reasons why we should grant them relief. And the ardent desires of a dutiful child are proper reasons why the parent should gratify his feelings. So, the sincere and humble prayers of the upright are proper reasons why the great Parent of all should show them favor. Hence says the Psalmist, “ Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." When a saint sincerely offers up his desires to God for a certain favor, God views his prayer as a reason why he should grant his request. And when a number of saints unite in praying for any public blessing, God views their united petitions as so many reasons why he should grant it. It is true, indeed, God does not always answer the prayers of his friends, because he often sees stronger reasons for denying, than for granting their requests. His perfect benevolence is under the direction of his unerring wisdom, which always leads him to act according to the highest reason. So far, therefore, as the prayers of his people are consistent with the general good, just so far they are always a powerful and prevailing reason, for the bestowing of divine favors.
We ought to consider, in the next place, that though God formed all his purposes from eternity, yet he formed them in the view of all the pious petitions which should ever be presented to him, and gave to these petitions all the weight that they deserved, in fixing his determinations. In determining to forgive the idolatry of Israel, he had respect to the request of Moses.
In determining to cause the sun and moon to stand still, he had respect to the petition of Joshua. In determining to release Peter from prison, he had respect to the pressing importunity of the church. Indeed, all his purposes, which relate to the bestowment of solicited favors, were formed in view, and under the influence of those prayers which he intended to answer. He adapted preventing, preserving, delivering mercies to the prayers of his people, and fixed a connection between their prayers, and his special interpositions.
This leads us, in the last place, to consider pious prayers as the proper means of bringing about the events with which they are connected in the divine purpose. Though God is able to work without means, yet he has been pleased to adopt means into his plan of operation. And according to this mode of operation, means are absolutely necessary in order to accomplish the designs of God. As he designed to save Noah and his family, by the instrumentality of the ark, so it was absolutely necessary that the ark should be built. As he designed to deliver Israel by the hand of Moses, so it was absolutely necessary that Moses should be preserved by the daughter of Pharaoh. And as he designed to save Paul from shipwreck by the exertion of the sailors, so it was absolutely necessary that the sailors should abide in the ship. In the sarne manner, the prayers of saints are the necessary means of procuring those favors, or of bringing about those events, which God has connected with their petitions. This will appear from a single consideration. If prayers did not really operate as means in procuring divine favors, then it would be as proper to pray for divine blessings after they are granted, as before. But this we all know to be absurd. Suppose a good man hears that his friend at a distance is dangerously sick, it is certainly proper that he should pray for his life. But supposing he is credibly informed, a few weeks after, that his friend is entirely restored to health; it is certainly improper that he should continue to pray for the removal of his sickness. The reason is, while his friend was sick, his prayers might be the means of procuring his recovery; but after that event had actually taken place, his prayers could no longer operate as means of bringing it to pass. Hence it appears that the immutability of the divine purposes, instead of destroying, actually establishes the necessity and prevalence of prayer.
The more indissolubly God has fixed the connection between our praying and his hearing, the more we are bound and encouraged to pray. After God had promised his people in Babylon, that he would restore them to their former prosperity, he expressly said, " I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." But who can imagine