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(2.) SINCERITY or earnestness consists also in the fervent exercise of the affections : So St. Paut requires that we should be * fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. And Solomon in the name of God speaks thus, t My Son, give me thine heart. It is the HEART which God especially requires in all the services of religion, and particularly in the offices of devotion: for without this our prayers are but as a founding brass and as a tinkling cymbal; not only not acceptable, but grating and provoking to the great God, to whom we speak. We are not only to know and mind what we say in prayer, but our fincere defires are to go along with every petition, an affectionate thankfulness with every clause of our praises, and a devout reverence, and impressions suitable to what is said, with every acknowledgment of the awful attributes of God therein. It is a mocking of God to pray for what we do not desire, and to give thanks for such things of which we have no consideration or esteem. God being the great judge and discerner of spirits, knows with what temper and inclination we come to him; and how can we expect he should bestow that upon us, which he knows we care not whether he does or no, many times what we had rather be without ? As for instance, we pray that God would not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Who can ever imagine any man to be in earnest in this request, that knowingly and necdlesly runs himself into temptation every day; and though made conscious of his own weakness by repeated falls, will still be challenging, and wrestling Itill with an antagonist whom he has found too strong for him? He knows the Siren that has often charm'd him to his ruin, he owns his folly, pretends to repent of it, and change his measures; but
Roin, xii. II.
| Prov. xxiii. 26.
’tis a vain pretence, while (with Solomon's young man void of understanding ) he daily goes the way to her house, and still frequents her company. The love of wine, or the influence and example of his debauched companions, have betray'd him frequently to intemperance; he confesses it, and resolves to grow sober and abstemious ; yet runs into the same fociety as often as he can have it, and one glass leads him on to another, till his appetite has again overpower'd his rcason and his virtue. Does such a man indeed desire that God would keep him from fin, when he so apparently delights in the temptation? Or that God would preserve him from tcmptation, when he himself wantonly plays with it, nay, even seeks it out, and tempts the tempter? If therefore the grace of God does not (according to the letter of his prayer) preserve him from temptation, and deliver him from evil, it is not that God refuses to hear him, or denies his request; but because his affection not going along with the words, he does not really desire this, and consequently it is not his request, he does not pray for it; and though he may say the Lord's-Prayer twenty times in a day, he may thank himself, if nevertheless he falls into grievous fins, and is overcome by many temptations: For his heart, as well as his voice, muft join, or God will not regard him. Did we but impartially examine into the state of our affections, and compare our prayers and our conduct together, 'tis to be fear'd much of the like sincerity would appear in other instances, which I have not time to mention. But surely at the very moment we are putting up petitions to God, one transient thought upon each of them before we utter them, will tell us whether we are in earnest or no. 'Tis caly to think with my self, whether I do indeed desire this thing which I am about to ask: If I find I do not, 'tis in vain to ask it; and if I do, my affections may
be said to go along with my petition. This method I would seriously recommend, that our prayers may be a deliberate act of the heart, and of the judgment, as well as of the tongue. And by what I have insisted on, it will appear, that by the affections, I do not mean that forced fervency, which is rather a straining and working up of the passions ; nor that mere warmth of imagination and fancy, on which some people lay the stress of all devotion, but a regular, solid, rational, and sincere desire of what we pray for, which may take place in the mind without extravagant raptures, and affected tones and postures. Thus much for that sincerity or earneftness, which is one branch of importunity
The second thing imply'd in importunity in prayer, is continuance, or perseverance. To this St. Paul excites the Thessalonians ; * Pray without ceasing, in every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God concerning you. And the Philippians also; t Be careful for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the fame Apostle describing to the Ephesians the chriftian armour, with which he would have them always guarded and in readiness, adds in the close, as a material part of it, + Praying always, with all prayer and supplication, and watching thereunto with all perseverance. And our Saviour here implies the same thing, by the repetition of his command, so often, in a variety of words, Ask, seek, knock; that is, pray frequently, or continue praying, with an unwearied diligence. Now let us fee what is included in the perseverance, to which these and many
other places of Scripture press us.
* 1 Thesl. v. 17.
Phil. v. 17.
* Eph. vi. 13.
(1.) Ir imports an habitual disposition to pray, and this implies an inwrought habit of fearing, loving, and honouring God: For as the nature of prayer is described, in general, to be an intercourse or conversation of the soul with God, that intercourse can never be carry'd on without honourable and worthy thoughts of God; and he that has that sense of God truly, will have it habitually; and he that has it habitually, will exert it frequently. Such a soul will ascend to God upon all occasions, and by often returns and emotions, and this sense of the duty reconciles those expressions in Holy Șcripture, of praying always, and continuing instant in prayer, not only to a possibility, but to easiness and familiarity: For the foul of a man is quick and agil, it can enter the courts of heaven abstractedly, and offer a thousand petitions, while the body is but dressing and preparing for the temple ; and there is no honest affair in the world, how laborious and troublesome foever, that can hinder this fpiritual commerce.
(2.) PERSEVERANCE in prayer, implies likewise a fervency of more set and solemn applications to God, at all proper opportunities, and on all occafions; we either want or receive something at his hands continually, our souls and bodies, our estates and employments, our families and relations, the state of the Church, or that of the public, afford us matter enough every day we live, to apply our felves to God by supplications, or by praises. Morning and evening is the least we can think our felves obliged to. * It is a good thing, says holy David, to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O thou most High, to few forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faitlyfulness every night. Even the times of our eating, the re
* Psal. xcii. 1, 2.
turns of our stated meals, require us to pray for a blessing on the food he gives us, and to praise him for it, according to the * example of our blessed Lord himself, who always did so, when he fate down
And besides these fix'd and constant occafions, the accidents we see, and the accidents we hear of; our fickness, our health, our encrease, or our losses, our spiritual state, our conversation, and our business, and our recreation; these all call upon us to call upon God very frequently, either to deprecate his displeasure, or to beg his assistance ; to implore his grace, or to own his providence, and to praise his goodness, and he that does this may be said to pray continually. Thus far a man may proceed privately; but because prayer is likewise a public act of religion, and that God requires we should honour him before men, and in the face of the world, therefore are we obliged,
(3.) To neglect as few opportunities as is possible, of asembling our selves publicly to worship God with united fouls, and combined and conjugated affections, assisting and enflaming one another. The Church has appointed a daily service for the worship of God in public, which has been practised from the very first beginning of the christian religion, by the Apostles themselves, and the primitive Christians. The Jews had stated hours of daily prayers, and the Apostles and first believers resorted to the temple at those hours; so it is said of St. Peter and St. John, that they went up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. . And there is nothing more manifest in the writings of the antient Christians, than that they observed stated times of public worship daily and nightly too: for during the ages of per
* Mat. xiv. 9. Mat. xy. 36. Luke xxiv. 30.