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This statement appears to be philosophical, and yet it is obviously unnatural. It opposes the first sentiment which arises in the mind of every mortal, in every age, under every system of religion, when he is prompted, in the hour of danger and distress, to seek assistance beyond the power of mortals to bestow. The very act of supplication implies the expectance of a boon, which might not have been granted without it. The explanation is also much too circuitous to animate devotion, and it has a natural tendency to render devotion languid. The apostle James does not appear to be of this sentiment, when he asserts that "the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much;" for the assertion does not refer to the devout affections excited in the mind of the supplicant, but to its effects on the state and condition of the subjects of prayer. When it is enjoined upon the devout Christian to pray that he may not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil, he is taught to expect something more immediate than, that in the natural course of things he may be preserved from seductions and calamities to which he is naturally exposed; for he prays that the course of things may not prove inimical to him, according to their nature and tendency. For if he should have a
full assurance that every thing will take place according to an immutable preordination, this assurance could not inspire him with that earnest fervent prayer which availeth much.
We must also observe, that the position which confines the promise of superior aid to the primitive Christians, is gratuitous. It draws a line which no one expression of scripture has warranted, and which its current language loudly opposes. Nor is the difference between the primitive Christians and their successors, in many cases, so great as to render superior assistance absolutely necessary to the former, and unnecessary to the latter.
The assistance promised, and administered to the Apostles and primitive Converts, was of different kinds. They were endowed with powers openly miraculous, which gave weight and authenticity to their mission, and enabled them to promulgate the truths of Christianity both to Jews and Gentiles. They enjoyed also more secret and occasional aid, by which their minds were illuminated; their conduct in particular cases was directed; the energies of their souls were augmented. They acquired active courage, to face every danger, and encounter every difficulty; and patient courage to endure every hardship, and suffer every disgrace. In such
cases was their strength always rendered equal to their day. "Though weak in themselves, they were strong in the Lord, and the power of his might." St. Paul declared, that he could do all things through Christ that strengthened him; and the whole of his history proved the truth of his declaration.
The miraculous gifts have ceased of course. Their purpose was fully accomplished in the establishment of Christianity. But it is possible, nay it is probable, that in every age, christians of every class may be exposed to such dangers, difficulties, and temptations, as demand superior aid. We are taught to infer, that the agonies of the perfect Jesus would have been too much for his susceptible mind, had he not received support and consolation from above. It is universally admitted that the apostles were supported in their conflicts, by their having received the Comforter; but other christians, as well as the Apostles, have suffered persecution for righteousness sake. They have manifested similar courage. They have been raised above the horrors of their situation. They have been inexpressibly happy in a prison, and have gloried in the Cross of Christ, as they were conducted to the flames. Were the natural powers equal to such conflicts, a mind like that of St.
Paul would have required no farther aid. If he was not sufficient for these things, the sufficiency cannot be expected to reside in more common Christians. In fact, human powers have their natural limits. The firmest resolu tion may be shaken and subdued, when the combatant is placed in new and untried situations. At these moments, the less a christian confides in his own strength, the firmer his confidence reposed in Divine support, the more will his nerves be braced for the conflict; and the more certain will he be of gaining the victory.
But let us examine whether the above sentiment be so philosophical as its abettors suppose.
We acknowledge that the Deity is immutable in his nature, but we must also acknowledge that he is necessarily active. His operations must bẹ incessant, or he is not always the same. In what manner he is incessantly operative, is a secret no one can disclose. Nor can we discover what particulars are included in our received axioms concerning the laws of nature, and the agencies of cause and effect. We are generally prone to confine the course of nature entirely to physical causes, or to the influence which one body is ordained to have upon ano
ther, according to certain immutable rules. But if the ever-active Deity hath not retired from his operations, something more must be understood. It is possible, that the permanency of physical powers may totally depend upon the permanency of his agency. Nor is it irra-, tional to suppose, that in certain cases, where the usual course of things is not equal to the production of important events pre-ordained, this ever-active Being exerts an extraordinary energy, or a different kind of energy, according to certain moral laws of his own appointment. When God condescended to change the order of nature, or interrupt the usual influence of causes, in order to impress a conviction upon the minds of others, although it was by the infliction of judgments, the motive was always benevolent. Some essential goed was to be produced, which could not otherways have existed. May not a similar motive induce him to a similar interference, although in a more secret, and perfectly imperceptible manner, in order to assist, support, and console those who, in conformity to his commands, repose their confidence in him, that their strength may be equal to their conflicts, and that in the hour of temptation and distress, they may not make ship-wreck of faith and a good conscience?