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Many times good men pray, and their prayer is not a sin, but yet it returns empty; because, although the man may be, yet the prayer is not, in proper disposition: and here I am to account to you concerning the collateral and accidental hindrances of the prayer of a good man.
The first thing that hinders the prayer of a good man from obtaining its effects, is a violent anger and a violent storm in the spirit of him that prays. For anger sets the house on fire, and all the spirits are busy upon trouble, and intend propulsion, defence, displeasure, or revenge; it is a short madness, and an eternal enemy to discourse, and sober counsels, and fair conversation ; it intends its own object with all the earnestness of perception, or activity of design, and a quicker motion of a too warm and distempered blood; it is a fever in the heart, and a calenture in the head, and a fire in the face, and a sword in the hand, and a fury all over; and therefore can never suffer a man to be in a disposition to pray. For prayer is an action, and a state of intercourse and desire, exactly contrary to this character of anger. Prayer is an action of likeness to the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of gentleness and dove-like simplicity; an imitation of the holy Jesus, whose spirit is meek, up to the greatness of the biggest example; and a conformity to God, whose anger is always just, and marches slowly, and is without transportation, and often hindered, and never hasty, and is full of mercy: prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts, it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness; and he that prays to God with an angry, that is, with a troubled and discomposed spirit, is like him that retires into a battle to meditate, and sets up his closet in the outquarters of an army, and chooses a frontier garrison to be wise in. Anger is a perfect alienation of the mind from prayer, and therefore is contrary to that attention, which presents our prayers in a right line to God. For so have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven,
and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest, than it could recover by the libration and frequent weighing of his wings ; till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the air about his ministries here below: so is the prayer of a good man; when his affairs have required business, and his business was matter of discipline, and his discipline was to pass upon a sinning person, or had a design of charity, his duty met with the infirmities of a man, and anger was its instrument, and the instrument became stronger than the prime agent, and raised a tempest, and overruled the man; and then his prayer was broken, and his thoughts were troubled, and his words went up towards a cloud, and his thoughts pulled them back again, and made them without intention, and the good man sighs for his infirmity, but must be content to lose the prayer, and he must recover it when his anger is removed, and his spirit is becalmed, made even as the brow of Jesus, and smooth like the heart of God; and then it ascends to heaven upon the wings of the holy dove, and dwells with God, till it returns, like the useful bee, loaden with a blessing and the dew of heaven.
Indifferency and easiness of desire is a great enemy to the success of a good man's prayer. When Plato gave Diogenes a great vessel of wine, who asked but a little, and a few caraways, the Cynic thanked him with his rude expression : “ Thou neither answerest to the question thou art asked, nor givest according as thou art desired : being inquired of, how many are two and two? thou answerest, twenty.” So it is with God and us in the intercourse of our prayers: we pray for health, and he gives us, it may be, a sickness that carries us into eternal life; we pray for necessary support for our persons and families, and he gives us more than we need; we beg for a removal of a present sadness, and he gives us that which makes us able to bear twenty sadnesses, a cheerful spirit, a peaceful conscience, and a joy in God, as an antepast of eternal rejoicings in the kingdom of God. But, then, although God doth very frequently give us beyond the matter of our desires, yet he does not so often give us great things beyond the spirit of our desires, beyond the quickness, vivacity, and fervour of our minds: for there is but one thing in the world that God hates besides sin, that is, indifferency and lukewarmness; which, although it hath not in it the direct nature of sin, yet it hath this testimony from God, that it is loathsome and abominable; and excepting this thing alone, God never said so of anything in the New Testament, but what was a direct breach of a commandment. The reason of it is, because lukewarmness, or an indifferent spirit, is an undervaluing of God and of religion; it is a separation of reason from affections, and a perfect conviction of the understanding to the goodness of a duty, but a refusing to follow what we understand. For he that is lukewarm alway, understands the better way, and seldom pursues it; he hath so much reason as is sufficient, but he will not obey it; his will does not follow the dictate of his understanding, and therefore it is unnatural. It is like the fantastic fires of the night, where there is light and no heat; and therefore may pass on to the real fires of hell, where there is heat and no light; and therefore, although an act of lukewarmness is only an indecency, and no sin, yet a state of lukewarmness is criminal, and a sinful state of imperfection and indecency; an act of indifferency hinders a single prayer from being accepted; but a state of it makes the person ungracious and despised in the court of heaven: and therefore St. James, in his accounts concerning an effective prayer, not only requires that he be a just man who prays, but his prayer must be fervent; "an effectual fervent prayer,” so our English reads it; it must be an intent, zealous, busy, operative prayer; for consider what a huge indecency it is, that a man should speak to God for a thing that he values not; or that he should not value a thing, without which he cannot be happy; or that he should spend his religion upon a trifle; and if it be not a trifle, that he should not spend his affections
If our prayers be for temporal things, I shall not need to stir up your affections to be passionate for their purchase; we desire them greedily, we run after them intemperately, we are kept from them with huge impatience, we are delayed with infinite regrets; we prefer them before our duty, we ask them unseasonably; we receive them with our own prejudice, and we care not; we choose them to our hurt and hindrance, and yet delight in the purchase; and when we do pray for them, we can hardly bring ourselves to it to submit to God's will, but will have them (if we can,) whether he be pleased or no; like the parasite in the comedy, “Qui comedit quod fuit et quod