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THE EFFICACY OF
2377.] the efficacy of fervent prayer. 119 the essential means in all ages of saving the immortal soul.
Again; Because the saints are encouraged to “confess their faults one to another," with a view to the augmenting of their mutual sympathy, and the directing of them in their mutual intercessions, these deceivers have required the laity to confess their sins to the clergy, in order to their obtaining the forgiveness of them at the hands of God: whereas, according to St. James, there is no such deference due to any particular order of men; but the confession is as much required from the clergy to the laity, as from the laity to the clergy.
We stop not however to notice these grievous errors, but pass on to that which more immediately concerns ourselves; and to point out to you, I. The import of the assertion before us
The preceding context certainly leads our thoughts chiefly to the work of intercession : yet since it is also said, “ Is any afflicted, let him pray,” we must not confine our attention to prayer as offered for others, but must notice it also as offered for ourselves. We say then, that when “a righteous man” draws nigh to God, and presents before him prayers inspired and dictated by the Holy Ghost (whose peculiar office it is to “help our infirmities” in prayer", and to “ make intercession for use"), he shall prevail;
1. For others,
[Of this the instances are so numerous, that we can only give a short specimen of them: yet shall it be such a specimen, as will abundantly confirm the truth before us.
We will begin with Moses, who, when God was exceedingly wroth with his people for making and worshipping the golden calf, set himself to pray and intercede for them. But God, feeling, if I may so say, how impossible it would be for him to resist the importunity of his servant, said, “ Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and," if thou thinkest that my covenant with Abraham will be broken thereby, I assure thee it shall
men of theme truth before "God was exceede
b ver. 16.
c ver. 13.
d Rom. viii. 26.
Rom. viii. 27.
not; for “ I will make of thee a great nation"." But Moses would not “ let him alone,” but pleaded for them with all imaginable earnestness and importunity: and the consequence was, “ the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
My next instance shall be that of Joshua, who, desiring to prosecute the advantage which he had gained over the Amorites, and destroy them utterly, prayed that neither the sun nor moon might advance in their course, but continue to aid him with their light, till he had accomplished his desire. To effect this, the whole universe must be arrested in its career; and such a shock be given to it, as to endanger its utter dissolution. But whatever stood in the way, it must yield to his prayer. Accordingly, no sooner did this righteous man issue the command,“ Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon,” than all the laws of nature were suspended, " and the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, till the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it, or after it, that the Lord so hearkened to the voice of a manh.”
Here we have seen all the material creation stopped by the voice of prayer. - Now we will refer to another instance, wherein heaven itself is moved, and an angel sent from thence to fulfil the petitions of two chosen servants. Jerusalem was besieged, and utterly incapable of holding out against the enemy who was come against it. But Hezekiah and Isaiah betook themselves to prayer. And what was the result? An angel was sent from heaven to destroy, in one single night, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the besieging army: and the blaspheming monarch, who had boasted that nothing could withstand him, was forced to return immediately to his own country, where he was slain by his own sons, whilst in the very act of worshipping the senseless idol in which he had trusted for success. For this cause, says the historian, “ Hezekiah the king, and the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amos, prayed and cried to heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword'."
One more instance I will mention, in order to shew how immediately the prayer of a righteous man succeeds. Daniel had understood, from the prophecies of Jeremiah, that the time for the close of the Babylonish captivity was near at hand: and he set himself to seek more particular instruction from God respecting it, in order that he might be able to take advantage of such circumstances as might occur for the benefit of his nation. “I set my face,” says he, “ unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God.” And now behold the effect !-" And whiles I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation, and informed me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding: at the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth; and I am come to shew thee all that thou didst ask." See what expedition was used, by God's special command, to answer whilst in the very act of prayer; and to let him know, that, at the very commencement of his suit, his prayer was heard!
i Exod. xxxii. 10.
& Exod. xxxii. 14.
More on this subject is unnecessary: yet less could scarcely have been spoken, if we would in any degree do justice to it.] 2. For ourselves
[I mention this last, because it is, in reality, the greatest: for the prayers which are offered in behalf of others, prevail only for the obtaining of some temporal blessing: they cannot certainly procure for men the salvation of their souls: for, if they could, no creature would ever perish. When Stephen prayed, “ Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," it prevailed probably in behalf of Saul, and perhaps of some others: but it cannot be supposed that it succeeded in behalf of all. But for a man's own self his prayer is sure to prevail. There is no limit to the benefits which he shall receive, provided only he ask according to the will of God. He may not be answered in the particular way that he may desire. The cup, for the removal of which the Lord Jesus Christ himself prayed, was not taken out of his hands; nor was the thorn for the extraction of which St. Paul cried with such eager importunity removed: but both he and his divine Master were answered in a way more consonant with the purposes of Jehovah. But in some way, and that the best, prayer shall most assuredly je answered to all who cry to God in sincerity and truth'.
k Dan. ix. 3, 4, 20—23.
i Jer. xxix. 13.
Whatever they ask in Christ's name, shall be given them m. Let them “open their mouth ever so wide, it shall be filled." They may exhaust all the powers of language in their petitions, and may then extend their thoughts to the utmost limit of a finite conception; and they shall not only have all, but more than all, yea," abundantly above all that they can ask or thinko."]
The assertion in our text deserves the most attentive consideration on its own account; but more especially on account of, II. The insight which it gives us into truths of the
greatest importance From this we obtain an insight into, 1. The character of God
[We think of God, for the most part, as a Being of infinite majesty, who, unless in matters of very extraordinary moment, does not trouble himself with the concerns of men: and hence, if a person were to speak of having received answers to his prayers, he would be accounted wild, visionary, and presumptuous. But let God be viewed as he is represented in the text: let him be viewed as noticing with the deepest interest the very least and meanest of his children; as attending to their every cry, and treasuring up in his vials their every tearP. Not so much as a “ breathing” of theirs escapes his notice; or a desire, of which they themselves perhaps are scarcely conscious The highest archangel does not more engage his attention, than does a poor despised Lazarus : nor is he less concerned about every individual amongst his people, than if there were but one in the whole universe. This is the true light in which to view his condescension and grace; of which a mother's feelings towards her first-born child afford but a slender and very inadequate idea?.] 2. The Christian's state
[In respect of external appearance, there is no difference between a child of God and any other person: but in reality, as they are viewed by God, they are widely dissimilar. In the one God beholds his own image: in the other, the image of the wicked one. On the one he looks with pleasure and complacency: the other he views afar off, with utter disdain'. To
n Ps. lxxxi. 10. • Eph. iii. 20. P Ps. Ivi. 8. q Ps. cxlv. 18, 19. Lam. iii. 56.
1 Isai. xlix. 15. s Ps. cxxxviii. 6.
for hodetely under you see
the one his ears are open, to hear their every request : “ the sacrifices of the other are an abomination to himu." Look at Abraham, when interceding for Sodom: there you see the friend of God. Look at those who, merely under the pressure of some calamity, cry and plead for help, whilst yet they have no love to God in their hearts: there you see the contrast; for God “ laughs at their calamity, and mocks at their fear*.” And all this is but a prelude to that which will speedily be accomplished in them; when the one shall be called to his right hand, and be exalted to a throne of glory; and the other be turned to his left hand, and be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. Ungodly men endeavour to persuade themselves that all this is nothing but a vain conceit: but the Jews, notwithstanding all their blindness, could see that this difference did exist: “We know," say they, " that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he hearethy." Do ye then know it: for, whether ye will believe it, or not, so it is: nor are light and darkness, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, further asunder, than are the children of God, and the children of the wicked one?.] 3. The use and excellency of the Gospel
[It is the Gospel alone that can bring a man into this happy state. Nothing else can shew him how to draw nigh to God with acceptance, or to obtain reconciliation with him. This exhibits to us a Saviour; a Saviour, who bought us with his blood. This brings us into union with that Saviour, so that we are made “ one spirit with hima," and are entitled to a participation of all that he himself possesses ; " of the love wherewith the Father loveth himb;" of " the joy with which his soul is filled ;” and “ of the glory which the Father hath given to him d." Here is the true secret of the difference of which we have before spoken. The believer is viewed as in Christ; as washed in his blood; as clothed in his righteousness; as altogether “one with him, even as the Father and Christ are one." This accounts for all which we have before mentioned of the believer's peculiar and exalted privileges. Let me then entreat you, beloved, to embrace the Gospel without delay; seeing that through that alone you can have access to God, and obtain that fellowship with him which it is your privilege to enjoy.] TO CONCLUDE
Thiliever's beloved that with
+ Ps. xxxiv. 15, 16.
John xvii. 23.
u Prov. xv. 8. * Prov. i. 24–28.