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itfelf, and in the fimpleft cafes, may be faid to carry this idea in it; becaufe he that prays ftands in need of fomething which he can only obtain by prevailing with, or bending the will of another to bellow: Matth. vii. 7. "Afk, and it fhall be given you: feek, and ye fhall find: "knock, and it fhall be opened unto you." But as there are many gracious aflurances of God's readinefs to hear our prayers, the fubject we are now upon leads us particularly to the confideration of the obftru&ions or difficulties that lie in the way, either of our praying as we ought, or praying with fuccefs. Thefe two things mull be joined together, becaufe they are in their nature infeparably connected: James iv. 3. "Ye afk and receive not, becaufe "ye ftfk amifs, that ye may confume it upon your lulls." James i. 5, 6, 7. "If any of you lack wifdom, let him "afk of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and up"braideth not; and it fhall be given him. But let him "afk in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth "is like a wave of the fea, driven with the wind, and "tolfed. For let not that man think that he fhall receive "any thing of the Lord." Now, for the illuftration of this duty and practice, in a way fuited to the condition and daily experience of the children of God, I fhall mention fome of the chief obftructions or difficulties we have to wretlle with in our accefs to God, and which muft be overcome by the importunity and holy violence of prayer.
1. The firfl of thefe I fhall mention is a fenfe of guilt overwhelming the foul. This, which is the ftrongefl of all arguments for the neceffity of prayer, is often found in experience to hinder the performance. When any perfon is arrefted of confidence, when his multiplied tranfgreffions appear before him in all their variety, and in all their aggravations, it is apt to fill him with a jealoufy of God, a dread of entering into his prefence, and in fome fort a defpair of obtaining his mercy. This hath been often fesn in great profligates, overtaken by a vifitation of Providence, and Rung by the reproaches of confcience. When they have been urged to apply for divine mercy, they have anlwered,' I cannot pray:' or,' How can I pray, who 1 have been fo monftrous a finner?' Nay, it may be frequently obferved, that men who live in fecurity, without any juft conviction of their finful flate, will maintain fome fort of form of religion, will even go through their form with fome pleafure, and place fome dependance upon it. But when confcience begins to rife a little upon them, and they fee the enormities they are guilty of, though it cannot make them forfake their fins, it makes them fpeedily forfake all their religion. It is taken notice of by Dr. Doddridge, in his life of Col. Gardiner, that when he was indulging himfelf in all manner of wickednefs, he began, from a natural fenfe of duty, to pay fome acknowledgments to God; but as he was not refolved to forfake his fins, the daring profanity of it ftruck him with horror. He therefore determined, fays the author, 4 to make no 'more attempts of this fort; and was perhaps one of the 'firft that deliberately laid afide prayer from fome fenfe 'of God's omnifcience, and fome natural principle ofho'nor and confcience.' In this lai t reflection, the worthy author is undoubtedly miftaken; for he was not the firft, rtor will he be the laft, who has been driven from prayer by a fenfe of fin, and a horror of his Maker's prefence.
I have defcribed this difficulty in its moft hideous form, if I may fpeak fo, as it ftands in the way of wicked men. But there is often too much of it to be found even in good men themfelves. A deep fenfe of fin often fills them with a flavifh fear, mars their confidence before God, and tempts them to keep at a diftance from him. Pfal. xl. 12. " For innumerable evils have compaffed me about, "mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, fo that I "am not able to look up: they are more than the hairs of "mine head, therefore my heart faileth me." He that wreftles in prayer, refufes to yield to this difcouragement. He ftill ventures, though at a diftance, to look to his offended God. Though he is filled with tribulation and fear, he .will not give up his plea. He fays with the Pfalmift, Pf. lxxvii. 7, 8, 9. "Will the Lord caft off for ever? and *' will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone "for ever? doth his promife fail for evermore ? Hath God ^ forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger fhut up his "tender mercies? Selah." He endeavors to take fuch views of the glory and extent of divine mercy as will give him fome ground of hope. He maketh fupplication with flrong crying and tears. Againfl hope he believeth in hope; or refolves, that if he perifh, he fhall perifh at the footftool of mercy. And nothing is fo proper to bring him to this refolution, nay, nothing is fufficient for that purpofe, but the freenefs of falvation, as it is offered in the gofpel of Chrift, where all confidence is derived, not from the goodnefs of the finner, but from the power and grace of the Saviour.
2. Another difficulty to be overcome in prayer is, a frowning Providence difcouraging the mind. When this is added to the former, as they commonly go together, it augments the difficulty, and adds to the diftrefs. When great calamities are brought upon the believer, when one firoke follows upon the back of another, when fin challenges and Providence pnnifhes him, he is then in danger of giving up his condition as defperate, and without remedy. See the reflections of Job in this ftrain, notwithftanding he is commended to us as a pattern of patience, Job xix. 8, 9, 10. " He hath fenced up my way ** that I cannot pafs, and he hath fet darknefs in my u paths. He hath ftript me of my glory, and taken the "crown from my head. He hath deitroyed me on every '* fide, and I am gone: and my hope hath he removed *' like a tree."
When the rod of correction falls heavy, the Chriflian finds it very difficult to believe that it comes from the love of a father, and is rather apt to tremble under it as the feverity of a judge. So did Jacob himfelf, after all his experience, in the clofe of life, Gen. xlii. 36. "And Jacob M their father faid unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my ** children; Jofeph is not, Simeon is not, and ye will take "Benjamin away: all thefe things are againfl me." Sometimes the courfe of Providence in general has the fame effect. The profperity and infolence of finners, the oppreffed ftate of the children of God, the difappointed endeavors of his fervants, make them often call in queftion .his prefence, his faithfulnefs, or his power. This is the fubject of the whole 73d Pfalm, and fummed up in the 10th and nth verfes: "Therefore his people return hi"ther; and waters, of a full cup are wrung out to them. "And they fay, How doth God know? and is there "knowledge in the Moll High r"
He that wreflles in prayer, therefore, confiders the depth of Divine Providence with reverence. He dwells upon the wifdom and power of God, who alone can bring light out of darknefs, and order out of confufion. He taketh hold of his covenant, and the fure and everlafling mercy that is contained in it, and humbly and earnellly prays for univerfal and abfolute refignation to the divine will. This, my brethren, is one of the greateft and moll important objects of prayer, and what believers fhould wreftle for with the greateft fervor and importunity. They fhould cry mightily to God, and expoftulate earneftly with their own hearts, as the Pfalmift, Pf. xlii. 9, 10, n. "I "will fay unto God my rock, Why haft thou forgotten "me? why go I mourning becaufe of the oppreffion of the "enemy? As with a fword in my bones, mine enemies "reproach me: while they fay daily unto me, Where is "thy God? Why art thou caft down, O my foul? and "why art thou difquieted within me? hope thou in God, "for I mail yet praife him, who is the health of my coun"tenance, and my God.'' I am not here to go through all the grounds of encouragement on which the fuffering and pleading believer may place his dependance, drawn from the perfe&ions of an unchangeable God, from the power of a Saviour upon a throne, from the precife and exprefs promifes in fcripture of fupport or deliverance, and the daily experience of the faithful. It is fufficienc that I have pointed out to you the ftate and practice of a diftreffed and afflicted Chriftian wreftling with God.
3. Another difficulty often arifes from unbelieving thoughts, and inward temptations diftreffing the fpirit. Prayer takes its rife from and is carried on by faith. Prayer indeed is little elfe than the immediate and lively exercife of faith: Heb. xi. 6. "For he that cometh to God, "mull believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of "them that diligently feekhim.'' On this account, duti
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fnl and acceptable prayer is called the prayer of faith. Who would apply, or who can apply, to God, for any mercy, but from a perfuafion that he is prefent to hear, and that he is able and willing to bellow? Now, when this faith begins to fail, either from its natural weaknefs; from our fintul negligence, from the fubtle infinuations, or the more violent aflaults of the adverfary of our falvation, it muil be a great hindrance to the exercife of prayer.
Many are the difficulties of this kind which the Chriftian, from time to time, hath to ftruggie with. Sometimes he is made to doubt of the certainty, and fometimes of the meaning of the promifes. We fee fbme diftrefled perfons fo embarrafled with fcruples, or fo mifled by controverfy, as to lofe the relifh and fpiritual comfort of the word of God, while they are contending about it. Sometimes they are made to doubt their own title to apply the promifes w,hich appear like a rich and fumptuous table, encompafled with a flaming fword, forbidding their approach. Thus they are led away from the confolation of Ifrael, and made to feek in vain for a foundation of comfort in themfelves. How often do we fee, that the very fenfe of fin, and fear of danger, the very mifery and neceffity which particularly difcover the fitnefs and excellence of the truths of the everlafting gofpel, are made ufe of to difcourage us from embracing them!
Sometimes the truths themfelves are perverted, or fet in oppofition one to another, and mutually defiroy each other's influence. Thus, while the conftant and overruling providence of God fhould be the great foundation both of our faith and prayer, it is fometimes fet in oppofition to both. The falfe reafoner will fay to himfelf, Why fhould I pray for deliverance from this diftrefs? why fhould I pray or hope for the poffeffion of fuch a mercy? The whole order and courfe of events is fixed and unalterable. If it is appointed to happen, it fhall happen, whether I fpeak or be filent; if it is otherwife determined, the prayers of the whole creation will not be able to obtain it. How unhappily do men thus reafon themfelves out of their own peace! not confidering the unfpeakable abfurdity of