« AnteriorContinuar »
BY REV. F. SNYDER,
PASTOR OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH, TERRE HAUTE, IND.
THE REASONABLENESS AND BLESSEDNESS OF PRAYER. “ Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you."— JAMES iv. 8.
Worshipping with a pious heart is evidently the manner of drawing nigh to God, which the Apostle had in mind when he penned the text. It is elsewhere in the Scriptures, designated in this way :-Says the Psalmist, “ It is good for me to draw near to God: Í have put my trust in the Lord God." -Writing to the Hebrews, the apostle exhorts; “Having a high Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith."
Under the Jewish dispensation, drawing near to God in worship was a more literal thing than it is under the Christian dis. pensation. In the temple, God had his dwelling place as a king in his palace. There the Shekinah, as the visible symbol of his glory, manifested his presence. There was the mercy-seat; there the altar, and there the offering was to be made to him. Hence his people were required to come to that place, and there wait upon him in the manner of his own appointment.
It will not be understood from this, that Jewish worship was only of this outward, ceremonial character. The heart was required of them as well as of us. “ Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men : therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people.”—Isa. xxix. 13, 14. Nevertheless, under the Christian dispensation, the worship of God is more strictly of a spiritual character than it was under the former, as is indicated by the Saviour's remark to the woman of Samaria. “ The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”—The apostles did not understand this as discountenancing all outward worship-all expressed devotion ; since prayer and preaching the word, baptizing and breaking bread, were afterwards frequently engaged in by them as religious duties. The Saviour's meaning, therefore, must have been simply that what God requires in worship is, that the heart be in it; and that such worship may be rendered to him any where.
Ligation who thus' Kregard and . So men
The duty of worshipping God is no less the dictate of reason and of common sense, than of Scripture. It has been the sentiment of mankind, universally, that children ought to cherish peculiar respect for their parents. So men have always deemed it proper to specially regard and honor those high in authority. Can they who thus honor parents and magistrates, deny the obligation to do homage to Him who is at once their Maker, their Sovereign and their Judge? Grant that God is in no wise benefitted by the homage we render to him. Certainly no one supposes that we can add any thing to his essential glory. We can place him no higher than he is-cannot increase his happiness. Yet the homage we render to him may exalt him in our own hearts, and among our fellow mortals, and thus his declarative glory be promoted on the earth. It is not, however, my purpose on this occasion to dwell upon the general duty of worshipping God. I design rather to remark on that part of worship, which with peculiar propriety, may be denominated “ drawing nigh to God;" and would address you on the reasonableness and blessedness of PRAYER.
I. Its reasonableness.
1. God has enjoined it. — This may strike you at first as a strange reason to be assigned for the performance of any duty. But it must be counted reasonable to do what God has commanded, and most unreasonable to disregard his positive injunctions.
But has God, in explicit terms, enjoined this duty upon men ? Yes, again and again. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint."-"Continuing instant in prayer.”_" Pray without ceas. ing." Many such declarations and commands are to be found in the Scriptures. Now, unless we deny that the Bible is the word of God, or, admitting this, deny his authority over us-a stretch of boldness not to be expected of any man—we must acknowledge that it is our duty to pray; and this implies that it is reasonable.
2. The reasonableness of prayer may be shown from the example of the Saviour. Repeatedly in the New Testament we read of his being engaged in this exercisemat his baptism-at the transfiguration in the garden. He spent whole nights in prayer. He taught his disciples to pray. They, certainly, counted his example and teachings authoritative in regard to the performance of this duty. And so we often find them after his ascension, supplicating the divine blessing, and receiving it in answer to their petitions. If, then, it was proper and reasonable for the Saviour to pray, and for the apostles to follow his example, on what ground can any man reasonably refuse to do the same. for a single one of them. Can any sufficient reason be assigned why such creatures should refuse humbly to ask God for his blessing.
3. The reasonableness of prayer is manifest when we consider what we are,
(a) As needy and dependent creatures. Every hour of our lives brings with it wants which must be supplied, or we suffer and die. And while our necessities are thus numerous and press. ing, we are utterly unable, apart from the divine bounty.
(6) As sinful and unworthy creatures. This might seem to us a reason why we ought not, rather than why we should, pray. Certainly it must be confessed that our sins strip us of all rightful claim to be heard in heaven, though pleading our own wants. But no one has, or can have any other idea of prayer, than as being addressed to the mercy of God; and when that mercy invites us freely to come and make known our desires, it is most unreasonable to use no harsher term) in us not to avail ourselves of the privilege.
(c) As dying and accountable creatures. Who can be willing to go into the presence of God without ever having called reverently upon his name. Who can feel easy in view of future accountability, whose heart has never been sufficiently grateful to acknowledge the Divine goodness, nor sufficiently humble to confess its sins and seek the Divine forgiveness? A prayerless sinner, who is not an infidel in its very worst sense, is as unreasonable a man as exists on the earth. Confessedly living under the eye of God; expecting to die and to stand before him in judgment, and yet refusing to acknowledge his favor in humble prayer! willing to make requests of his fellow men; to send his petition to those in authority, while yet he refuses to ask God for blessings hourly needed, and to render thanks for those incessantly bestowed! If this be not unreasonable, it is difficult to say what is; and if the reasonableness of a duty may be shown from the unreasonableness of neglecting it, there seems no need of saying more on this point. There is, however, another consideration which may properly be named in this connection.
4. As showing the reasonableness of prayer, consider the benefits of a persevering attendance on this duty. Not to God, as was before said, as if it could add to his essential glory or happiness in any degree. But to those who pray, and for whom prayer is offered.-Prayer is the way to a life of communion with God-a means of keeping up an acquaintance with, and of growing in the knowledge of God. It is a most excellent, yea, an essential means of nourishing the new nature, and of causing the soul to prosper. It is a good preservative from sin; as it is said," praying will make us leave sinning,” or “sinning will make us leave praying."-It hath a great tendency, says Edwards, “to keep the soul in a wakeful frame, and to lead us to a strict walk with God, and to a life that shall be fruitful in such good works as tend to adorn the doctrine of Christ, and to cause our light so to shine before others, that they, seeing our good works, shall glorify our Father who is in heaven." Nor are these all the benefits conferred by it. It prevails with God, as Jacob did, and brings down answers of peace and blessing. The Bible is full of instances in proof. We proceed to consider
II. The blessedness of Prayer.
1. This may be seen in the first place, by considering the nature of the exercise itself.
Prayer usually embraces three things,--praise-confession and supplication. The ascription of praise to God is certainly a delightful exercise to every grateful heart. The glory of his nature, and the blessings that flow continually from his bountiful hand, call for expressions of gratitude from every human tongue. “Oh that inen would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men !" A grateful heart is burdened with a sense of obligation until it finds relief in rendering a tribute of thanks to Him who is the giver of every good and every perfect gift. We can say with the Psalmist, “ It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High.”
Confession of sin is a part of prayer full of blessedness. To the proud heart of the wilful transgressor, such an assertion, I am aware, may seem extravagant, if not indeed false; but the humble child of God who has been brought to see the “exceeding sinfulness of sin," readily admits its truth, as he has often been conscious of it in his own experience. What a blessed hour was that to the poor prodigal when he came to himself, and said, “I will arise and go to my father.” And when he poured his heart-broken confession into his injured father's ear, and met that loving father's warm embrace, he felt a joy which a squandered inheritance had never afforded. How far happier was David, the penitent confessor, penning the fifty-first Psalm, than was ever David the king, enjoying the fruit of his murderous sin. And when the repentant sinner bows before his Heavenly Father uttering the publican's prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner," he experiences in his heart a joy which the world cannot give. It is on the principle of which we are now speaking that days of fasting and humiliation before God are not unfrequently days of the very highest enjoyment to those who observe them. At such times the Scripture is fulfilled. "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite spirit, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
Supplication, too, as a part of prayer, is a blessed exercise. To solicit favors from our fellow men is seldom agreeable to us. We are doubtful as to the reception our solicitations may meet with from him to whom we come. We may not find him in a pleasant mood; he may think we come too often ; or it may not be convenient for him at the time to attend to our request. Not thus is it with our Father in heaven. His language to us is “Come"-come freely-come often--come at any time. Prefer your requests. “Ask, and it shall be given you." He may not grant the very thing we ask. Yet if that be denied he will bestow other blessings instead; or in some way cause the refusal to sub
serve our highest good. We may be assured that he will never think the worse of us for asking, even though he sees it best to withhold from us the desire of our heart.
Good when he gives -supremely good,
Nor less when he denies;
Are blessings in disguise.
2. We may learn the blessedness of prayer by its effect on the character of him who offers it, and also by the blessings bestowed in answer to it. To both these benefits we alluded when speaking of the reasonableness of prayer. We remark further,-that the effects of this exercise on the character of him who prays are truly blessed. Prayer is communion with God. It is expressing to him the feelings and desires of the heart. Every one has observed that the effect of frequent intercourse is to assimilate in character those between whom the intercourse exists; they become like each other. Upon this principle, much prayer may be expected to produce heavenly-mindedness. Sin cannot appear so attractive to the soul conversant with the purity of heaven. Earth insensibly sinks to its proper place. Its riches, honors, pleasures, appear to us little worth while we look at the things eternal “not seen." A religion without prayer, is a religion without God. It is impossible for a man to keep in mind a vivid idea of a God, with whom he never communes, from whom he receives no instructions, to whom he prefers no request, and renders no homage. The Bible ignores such a religion.
Consider the blessings bestowed in answer to prayer. Many deny that any connection exists between prayer and the bestowment of blessing. In their estimation it is folly to suppose that God's greatness could condescend to listen to our petitions, or that his counsels would suffer him to answer them. But the BOOK declares that God does hear prayer; and instances in proof are recorded on its almost every page. Abraham plead for the righteous in the doomed cities of the plain ; Jacob wrestled with the angel until with the morning light came an answer of peace; Moses interceded repeatedly and successfully in behalf of revolting Israel; Elijah shut and opened the windows of heaven; Daniel was heard in the land of his captivity, and the apostles and early Christians were again and again answered while in the name of their ascended Master they plead for the protection of Heaven, and sought blessings for which they had been instructed to ask. The church in all ages has been a witness to the blessed efficacy of prayer. Every humble, faithful Christian, is witness to it.
And what more delightful than to know that, insignificant and sinful as we are, we may yet draw nigh to the great and holy God-may make our requests unto him, assured that if presented with a right spirit they will be heard, and answered in that way