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ii. Consider, THAT WE OURSELVES ALSO WERE DISOBEDIENT AND FOOLISH, SERVING DIVERS LUSTS AND PLEASURES: Tit. iji. 3. but were wrought upon, either by public or private reproof.
And why then should not we use the same charity towards others, which God hath been pleased to make effectual towards
iii. Consider, that the text makes it AN APPARENT SIGN OF HATING OUR BROTHER, IF WE FORBEAR JUSTLY TO REPROVE HIM. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart : thou shalt in any wise reprove him.
So that he, who reproves not his brother, hates him. Now he, that hateth his brother is a murderer, says St. John: 1 John iii. 15. and no murderer hath eternal life. Yea, we are guilty of soul-murder, which is so much the more heinous, by how much the soul is more precious than the body.
iv. Consider, that the performance of this duty, were it more universal, WOULD BE THE APTEST AND READIEST MEANS TO PREVENT SCHISM AND DIVISION.
The grand pretence for separation, is the wickedness of many who are Church-Members. Now our Saviour's method is, that such should be first reproved and admonished, before they be cast out: but it is a most preposterous and headlong course, which thousands in our days take, who cast themselves out of the communion of the Church, for the sins of those, who deserve to be cast out; and, rather than they will perform this · ungrateful work of reproof, choose to separate : whereas, if they would make use of our Saviour Christ's advice, Mat. xviii. 15, 16. to reprove privately, and in case of obstinacy to convict publicly, there would be, as no need, so no pretence left for separation; but either their private reproofs would prevail to reform, or their public complaints and accusations to remove offenders.
v. Consider, that THE NEGLECT OF THIS DUTY BRINGS THE SIN AND GUILT OF OTHERS UPON YOUR OWN SOULS.
See, for this, that Scripture, Eph. v. 11. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. If we reprove them not, we are partakers of their evil deeds, and deserve to be partakers of their torments.
This Text is one of those many commands, which the Apostle lays down in this chapter. Being now almost at the end and close of his Epistle, and not willing to omit the mentioning of duties so necessary for their practice, he pours them out in short, but weighty exhortations. The connection betwixt most of them is dark; if there be any. I shall not therefore vex the words, by tacking them either to the precedent or subsequent verses by any forced coherence; but take them as they are in themselves, in one entire proposition: and so they contain in them a duty, and that is, Prayer; and the manner also of performing of it, and that is, without ceasing ; and both of these do administer to us this plain Doctrine,
1. That IT IS A CHRISTIAN'S DUTY TO PRAY INCESSANTLY.
This is a plain and necessary point, and I intend to handle it in as plain and familiar a method. And there are Two things, which I shall enquire into.
What it is to pray. And, then;
i. I shall begin with the first, WHAT IT IS TO PRAY.
I answer: To pray, is, BY THE ASSISTANCE AND HELP OF THE HOLY GHOST, IN THE NAME AND MEDIATION OF JESUS CHRIST, WITH FAITH AND FERVENCY, TO MAKE AN HUMBLE REPRESENTATION OF OUR DESIRES UNTO GOD, FOR THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, WITH SUBMISSION TO HIS PLEASURE, AND WITH REFERENCE TO HIS HONOUR.
This is that holy duty of Prayer, in which, of all that belong to religion, the soul usually enjoys the most near and sweet communion with God. When we are oppressed with guilt, or overwhelmed with fears and griefs, what sweeter retreat than to betake ourselves to our God and to our Father, into whose bosom we may unload all our burdens? It is the greatest solace of an afflicted mind, to lie prostrate before the Lord, and melt itself down in holy tears and in holy affections at his feet. Hence it is said of Hannah, 1 Sam. i. 18. that, after she had poured out her soul before God, her countenance was nó more sad. And, therefore, this is not so much our duty, as our privilege. It is the happiness of the glorious angels in heaven, and of the spirits of just men made perfect, that they are always near unto God in their attendance upon him; that they are waiters about his throne: and Prayer gives to us the very same high privilege, and brings us into the presence and before the throne of the same God: only with this difference; they draw near to a Throne of Glory, and we draw near to a Throne of Grace.
Let us now take a more particular view of this excellent duty of Prayer, according to the description given of it.
1. The Efficient Cause of Prayer is the Holy Ghost.
Then we pray, when we breathe out those requests unto God, which the Holy Ghost hath breathed into us : and therefore it is said, Rom. viii. 26. The Spirit helpeth our infirmities : for we know not what we should pray for as we ought ; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with sighs and groans which cannot be uttered. All prayer, which is not dictated by the Holy Ghost, is but howling, in God's esteem. And, though wicked men, in their distresses, may be very passionate and very vehement in their requests, yet they have no promise that their prayers shall prevail with God: sometimes, indeed, God doth hear them, and, out of his common bounty and goodness, grant to them those temporal good things which they crave: he, who hears the young ravens when they cry, he, who hears the lowing
of the oxen, sometimes also hears wicked men under their afflictions, when they roar to him as a wild bull in a net, as the Prophet expresseth it: but yet such prayers of wicked men, though they are answered, are never accepted. God accepts no petitions, but such as are presented to him through the intercession of Christ : now Christ makes intercession for none in heaven, but only for those, in whose hearts the Spirit makes intercession here upon earth : their prayers alone ascend up to God as sweet incense; being perfumed with that much incense, which Christ offers up with the prayers of all the saints. God always hears and answers them, either in the very thing for 'which they pray, or else in what oftentimes is far better: when they ask that, which will be to their own hurt; then he answers them graciously, by denying them. In James v. 16. the Apostle tells us, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much : this, indeed, may seem a needless tautology, to say an effectual prayer availeth, for it is but one and the same thing to avail and to be effectual; but if we consult the original, we shall find the words may be translated, The in-wrought prayer; and, possibly, we may with more congruity render it thus, The prayer of a righteous man wrought in him ; that is to say, by the Spirit of God: such a prayer availeth much.
2. As the efficient cause of our prayers is the Holy Ghost, so the only Object of our Prayers is God, for it is a representation of our wants and desires unto him.
Now God may be considered either essentially or personally; and, under both respects, we may
prayers unto him. (1) If we consider the Persons of the glorious Trinity, so they are all adorable with this act of divine worship.
None will deny, but that we may direct our prayers unto. God the Father. And that God the Son may be distinctly prayed ur:to, we have an uncontrolable instance in that of St. Stephen; Acts vii. 59. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit : yea, and this adoration is due not only to the Divine Nature of Christ, which was from all eternity the same in being, majesty, and glory with the Father; but it is also due unto Christ as Mediator, as God. Man, and so his Human Nature is also joined in the participation of this high honour, through its union to the divine na. ture: the very angels in heaven are commanded to adore him as God-Man, as Mediator; Heb. i. 6. When he bringeth in his first-begotten into the world; that is, when he brought him into the world as man, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. Indeed we no where in Scripture, as I remember, have express mention made of any prayer directed to the Holy Ghost : yet whosoever allows him to be God cannot deny him this worship of prayer: if we must believe in him, we may then certainly call upon him; as the Apostle argues, Rom. x. 14. yea, we have an instance of the Seraphims giving praise unto him, which is one part of prayer, Isa. vi. 3. they cried one to another, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts : this God is the same, who, in verses 9, 10, 11. bids the Prophet say to the people, Hear ye, indeed, but understand not....Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears : this is that God, whom the Seraphims adored; and this is that God, who spake to the Prophet; and the Apostle, quoting this very place out of Isaialı tells us, Acts xxviii. 25. that it was the Holy Ghost spake: so that, by comparing these two places together, you see plainly that the Holy Ghost is God; and that he is to be adored by ús with the same worship, with wbich we worship the Father and the Son, for the Holy Ghost is the Lord God of Hosts; which St. Paul refers to the Holy Ghost; Well spake the Holy Ghost concerning them. Thus, if we consider God personally, each Person in the Trinity may well be the Object of our Prayers.
(2) Consider God essentially; and so we are also to direct our prayers to him.
To consider God essentially, is, to have the eye of our faith fixed upon his attributes; not upon his person: to consider him, when we pray to him, not as Father, Son, or Holy Ghost; but only as an infinitely glorious, wise, powerful, gracious God, and the like; to look upon him as a most pure essence, whose presence is every where, whose presence and goodness are over all things; to conceive him to be an infinite being altogether unconceivable: this is to consider God essentially. Now this notion of God is equally common to all the Three Persons: and therefore this is the most fit and congruous way when we come to God in prayer, to represent before' us his attributes: we need not select out any one Person in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, to direct our prayers unto; unless it be in some cases, wherein their particular offices are more immediately concerned: but, when we pray to him who is almighty, who is all-wise, infinitely holy, infinitely just and merciful, we