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addresses to the throne of grace, unless we 'depart from iniquity,' and imitate the piety which he hath set before us, and the olx-diencc which he learned, that he might become the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him? * Them that honour me,' saith the Lord God, ' I will honour:' but • the prayers of the wicked nre an abomination," both to the Father, to whom they are offered, and to the Son, in whose name the offering is pretended to be made.
Furthermore; to pray in the name of Christ, may be interpreted as involving the necessity of praying with the gracious help of his holy spirit, God gave" not the Spirit by measure unto him:' [John iii. 94.] but he attended him in unbounded fulness throughout his sufferings, until he enabled him to 'offer himself without sjwt unto God;' [Heb. ix. 14.] and, together with the blood, wherewith he sealed his sacrifice for sin, to pour forth those petitions of pious resignation and universal charity, which he uttered whilst he was hanging on the cross. That our prayers may be heard, we must' worship God in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him.' [John iv. 23.] Weak as we are by nature, this is what we cannot do without his preventing and assisting grace: but by receiving the adoption of sons, by being admitted into the family of our heavenly Father and made jointheirs with Christ, his grace becomes sufficient for us; his strength is made perfect in our weakness. And 'because we are sons, God sendeth forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts, whereby we cry Abba, Father.' [Horn. viii. 15.]
Lastly, to pray in the name of Christ supposes us to pray with a full assurance of hope and faith, that by virtue of his precious blood-shedding and of his powerful mediation and intercession with the Father, our prayers will be heard at the throne of grate. Faith in him, as the one Mediator between God and man; faith in him, as having * died for our sins, and risen again for our justification,' and as • ever living to make intercession for us;' in a word, faith in him, as being 'able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him;' is especially and indispensably necessary to us, if we would pray to the Father in Christ's name. We must confess him, we must trust in his merits, we must follow his humility, we must copy his obedience, we must partake of his spirit; but aa the foundation and spring of all, we must believe that he saveth his people from their sins, heretofore by his death, and now by his mediation.
8. To them, who thus ask of the Father in the Son's name, an assurance is given, that their prayers shall be favourably received. 'Verily, verily, I say unto you,' these are the words of the Son himself, ' whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he shall give it you.' What language can be stronger? What promise can be more- satisfactory?' Verily, verily, I say unto you.' It is introduced with that solemn preface, which our blessed Saviour appears to have employed on this and on some other occasions, to convince us of the absolute certainty of that which he declares. Nor can we doubt it without doubting the veracity of him, who * for this end was born, and for this cause came into the world, that he should bear witness unto the truth.' [John xvii. 37.]
Is it true then, that, literally speaking, whatsoever we ask of God, he will give us? that we can pray for nothing, but that it will be granted? Such is not the meaning of the promise. We may ask for many things, sinful in themselves, or hurtful in the application of them. These things then are not to be expected, as if they were implied in the promise of Christ; for it is the end of all the dispensations of our heavenly Father to promote his own glory, and therein the holiness and happiness of his people. But in this sense the promise is to be understood, that, if they are conducive to the promotion of God's glory, and to the present welfare and future salvation of our souls, * all these things he will give us." In desiring these things we cannot err; and these things we may be assured will be granted us, if we pray as Christ commands. As to all other things, they ought to be regarded by us only as means, whereby those great ends may be attained: whatever may appear to us the best means for attaining them, it is reasonable that we should pray for: but still we should always pray with a firm persuasion, that our own judgement as to the means must be infinitely below that of * the Judge of all the earth;' and we should therefore be convinced, that, however he may appear to refuse our petitions, he is really and effectually granting them, although we may not always in this life be permitted to see the accomplishment of the grant.
This I say, in order to clear the objection, which may be, and often is, made against prayer, that the effects of it are not to be perceived. Often perhaps they are not perceptible to the bodily eye, and can only be discerned by the eye of faith, which discerns the fulfilment of the spirit of a petition, where it may not be agreeable to the divine wisdom to vouchsafe a compliance with its letter. Often however they may be perceived, where the efficacy of prayer is written in characters of more plain and direct accomplishment: not rarely in the enjoyment of temporal blessings: but more certainly and more signally in those of a spiritual kind, which are vouchsafed to the people of God; in hearty repentance for past sins, and a steadfast faith in the blood of the Redeemer; in heavenly affections, and a virtuous and godly life; in the putting off of the old man, and in the putting on of the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness; in the renewing of the spirit of the mind; in purity of heart, and sanctih'cation of spirit; in humility and resignation, in conscientious exertions for the glory of God and the benefit of our brethren; in the communion and testimony of the Holy Ghost; in the peace of God, which passeth all understanding and keepeth the heart and mind through Christ Jesus. These are some of the blessings, which the Father giveth in this life to them, that ask in his Son's name. They are such things as the world cannot give. Their nature bespeaks their origin. Like him, who purchased them with his blood, they come down from heaven ; they are the gifts of that blessed Comforter, whom he sent to supply his place with his humble followers, and to abide with them for ever. They are blessings, which those, who weigh them in the balance of the sanctuary, esteem greater than all the kingdoms of the world, and richer than all the glory of them. They are a present evidence of the favour of God in this life; and an earnest of salvation, in another.
Let us then, my brethren, fail not to • ask the Father in his Son's name' for these his most inestimable benefits; these treasures of the kingdom of heaven. These things if we faithfully ask, he will assuredly grant us: and if we be possessed of these, whatsoever else it may please him in his wisdom to give or to take away, we shall still have ample reason to * bless the name of the Lord.'
Mark xvi. 19. He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right
hand of God.
[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.]
It stood not with the purpose of our Saviour, to ascend immediately from his grave into heaven; he meant to take the earth in his way, not for a sudden passage, but for a leisurely conversation. Upon Easter-day, he spake of his ascension; but he would have forty days interposed. Had he merely respected his own glory, he had instantly changed the grave for the paradise; for so much the sooner had he been possessed of his Father's joy. We would not continue in a dungeon, when we might be in a palace; but Christ, who for our sakes vouchsafed to descend from heaven to earth, would now have a gracious regard to us in his return.
His death had troubled the hearts of so many of his disciples, who thought that condition too mean to be compatible with the glory of the Messiah; and thoughts of diffidence were apt to seize upon the holiest breasts. So long, therefore, would he hold footing upon earth, till the world were fully convinced of the infallible evidences of his resurrection; of all which time he only can give an account. It was not for flesh and blood to trace the ways of immortality; neither was our frail, corruptible, sinful nature a meet companion for his now glorified humanity: the glorious angels of heaven were now his fittest attendants. But yet how oft did it please him graciously to impart himself this while unto men; and not only to appear unto his disciples, but to renew unto them the familiar forms of his wonted conversation, in conferring, walking, eating with them! And now, when he drew near to his last parting, he, who had many times showed himself before to his several disciples, thought meet to assemble them all together, for a universal valediction.
Who can be too rigorous in censuring the ignorances of wellmeaning Christians,when he sees the domestic followers of Christ, even after his resurrection, mistake the main end of his coming in the flesh ?' Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?' They saw their Master now out of the reach of all Jewish envy,—they saw his power illiinited and irresistible,—they saw him stay so long upon earth, that they might imagine he meant to fix his abode there; and what should he do there, but reign? And wherefore should thev be now assembled, but for the choice and distribution of offices, and for the ordering of the affairs of that state which was now to be vindicated? O weak thoughts of well-instructed disciples! What should a heavenly body do in an earthly throne! How should a spiritual life be employed in secular care? How poor a business is the temporal kingdom of Israel for the King of heaven! And even yet, our blessed Saviour does not sharply control this erroneous conceit of his mistaken followers; his mild correction insists rather upon the time, than the misconceived substance of that restoration. It was his gracious purpose that his Spirit should, by degrees, rectify their judgements, and illuminate them with his divine truths: in the mean time, it was sufficient to raise up their hearts to an expectation of that Holy Ghost, which should shortly lead them into all needful and requisite verities. And now, with a gracious promise of his Spirit,—with a careful charge renewed unto his disciples, for the promulgation of his gospel,—with a heavenly benediction of all his acclaiming attendants, he takes leave of earth; 'When he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.'
O happy parting, fit for the Saviour of mankind,—answerable to that divine conversation,—to that succeeding glory! O blessed Jesu, let me so far imitate thee, as to depart hence with a blessing in my mouth; let my soul, when it is stepping over the threshold of heaven, leave behind it a legacy of peace and happiness.
It was from the Mount of Olives that he took his rise into heaven. He might have ascended from the valley; all the globe of earth was alike to him: but, since he was to mount upward, he would take so much advantage as that stair of ground would afford him; he would not use the help of a miracle in that, wherein nature offered her ordinary service. What difficulty had it been for him, to have stray id up from the very centre of earth? But, since he had made hills so much nearer unto heaven, be would not neglect the benefit of