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culcates the energy of prayer, by the parable of the unjust judge and importunate widow. “And he spake a parable unto this end, that men 'ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a certain widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor, regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary
And the Lord said, hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you he will avenge them speedily.” The plain and obvious design of this parable is, to represent the powerful influence of pious and persevering prayer, to move God to pity and relieve his friends in
, distress. And agreeably to this, the Apostle James expressly declares, that, “the effectual fervent prayer . of a righteous man availeth much.” Indeed, the whole tenor of Scripture encourages saints to call upon God, with desires and hopes of moving his compassion. It is still further to be observed,
4. That the prayers of good men have actually prevailed upon God to grant great and signal favors. When the children of Israel had made a molten im. age, God was highly displeased, and felt disposed to destroy them. But Moses prayed and his prayers prevailed upon God to spare the idolaters. This appears from the account, which Moses gives of that memorable event. "And the Lord said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from hence: for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves: they are quickly turned aside out
of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image. Furthermore the Lord spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people: Let me alone, that I may destroy them from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they. So I turned and came down from the mount-And I fell down before the Lord: as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you. But the Lord hearkened unto me ut that time also.” It is here plainly intimated, that the prayers of Moses once and again moved God to bestow great and undeserved favors. The prayer of Joshua moved God, to stop the course of nature and cause the sun and moon to stand still, while he completed his victory over the enemies of Israel. The prayers of Job moved God to forgive the folly and presumption of his three friends, who had reproached both him and his Maker. David prevailed upon God, by his humble and fervent prayer, to countermand the angel, who stood with a drawn sword over Jerusalem, to destroy it. Samuel often interceded and prevailed with God, to spare and bless his rebellious people. Though Eli. jah was an imperfectly righteous man, yet his effectual fervent prayers availed much, to bring and to remove, divine judgments. The Apostle gives this account of the man, and of his prayers. “Elias was a man of like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth
brought forth her fruit.” It was the well known influence of Elijah's prayers, in moving God to smile or frown upon his people, that extorted the significant and pathetic exclamation of Elisha, when he saw him gloriously ascending to heaven. "My Father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." We have another instance of the prevailing influence of prayer, in the conduct of the primitive christians. While Peter was in prison, the church prayed incessantly for him, and at length prevailed. For in answer to their prayers, God miraculously loosed his bands, and set him at liberty. These effects of prayer, in connexion with the other considerations, which have been suggested, afford sufficient evidence, that it is the design of prayer to move God to bestow favors.
But now some may be ready to ask, how can this be? how can prayer have the least influence to move the heart of God, who is of one mind, and with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning?
Here we ought to consider, in the first place, that the prayers of good men are proper reasons, why an infinitely wise and good Being should grant their requests. The entreaties and tears of Joseph were proper reasons, why his brethren should have spared him from the pit; and they were finally constrained to acknowledge the force of those reasons. “They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us; and we would not hear.” The cries of the poor and needy are proper reasons, why we should grant them relief. And the ardent desires of a dutiful child are proper reasons, why the parent should gratify his feelings. So, the sincere and humble prayers of the upright are proper reasons why the great Parent of all should shew them favor, Hence says the Psalmist, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” When a saint sincerely offers up his desires to God for a certain favor, God views his prayer as a reason, why he should grant his request. And when a number of saints unite in praying for any public bles. sing, God views their united petitions as so many reasons, why he should grant it. It is true, indeed, God does not always answer the prayers of his friends, be cause he often sees stronger reasons for denying, than for granting their requests. His perfect benevolence is under the direction of his unerring wisdom, which always leads him to act according to the highest reason. So far, therefore, as the prayers of his people are consistent with the general good, just so far they are always a powerful and prevailing reason, for the bestow, ing of divine favors,
We ought to consider, in the next place, that though God formed all his purposes from eternity; yet he formed them in the view of all the pious petitions, which should ever be presented to him, and gave them all the weight that they deserved, in fixing his determinations. In determining to forgive the idolatry of Israel, he had respect to the request of Moses. In den termining to cause the sun and moon to stand still, he had respect to the petition of Joshua. In determina ing to release Peter from prison, he had respect to the pressing importunity of the church. Indeed, all his purposes, which relate to the bestowment of solicited favors, were formed under the weight and influence of those prayers, which he intended to answer. He adapted preventing, preserving, delivering mercies to the prayers of his people, and fixed a connexion be. tween their prayers, and his special interpositions.
This leads us, in the last place, to consider pious prayers as the proper means of bringing about the
events with which they are connected in the divine purpose. Though God is able to work without means, yet he has been pleased to adopt means into his plan of operation. And according to this mode of operation, means are absolutely necessary in order to accomplish the designs of God. As he designed to save Noah and his family, by the instrumentality of the ark; so it was absolutely necessary that the ark should be built. As he designed to deliver Israel by the hand of Móses; so it was absolutely necessary, that Moses should be preserved by the daughter of Pharaoh. And as he designed to save Paul from shipwreck by the exertion of the sailors, so it was absolutely necessary that the sailors should abide in the ship. In the same manner, the prayers of saints are the necessary means of procuring those favors, or of bringing about those events, which God has connected with their petitions. This will appear from a single consideration. If prayers did not really operate as means, in procuring divine favors; then it would be as proper, to pray for divine blessings after they are granted, as before. But this we all know to be absurd. Suppose a good man hears that his friend at a distance is dangerously sick; it is certainly proper that he should pray for his life. But supposing he is credibly informed, a few weeks after, that his friend is entirely restored to health; it is certainly improper that he should continue to pray for the removal of his sickness. The
. reason is, while his friend was sick, his prayers might be the means of procuring his recovery; but after that event had actually taken place, his prayers could no longer operate as means of bringing it to pass. Hence
, it appears, that the immutability of the divine purposes, instead of destroying, actually establishes the necessity and prevalence of prayer. The more indisso