« AnteriorContinuar »
bottles of heaven are unstopped in answer to the call of the earth -then the corn, and wine, and olive, implore the earth to put forth its vegetative energy—the earth answers; and corn, wine, and oil
, are produced-Jezreel, the people of God, who are perishing for the want of food, cries for the necessaries of life, and their wants are abundantly supplied. All these are dependant on each other, as the links are which constitute a chain; and God has the government of the whole. He manages all for the benefit of man. How wondrous are the ways of providence! How gracious and mer. ciful is the God of the whole earth! Here is a series of personifications linked together. Corn, wine, oil, the earth, the clouds and their contents, the heavens, and the air, are all represented as intelligent beings, influencing and speaking to each other. God is at one end of the chain, and man at the other; and, by means of the intermediate links, the latter is kept in a state of continued dependance upon the former for life, breath, and all things.
9. The gracious and endearing relation in which God stands to his people, is another ground of encouragement to approach him in prayer. In the enumeration of the various laws which were · given to the children of Israel, we meet with a very touching proof of the gracious disposition of the Almighty towards his creatures : If thou lend money to any of thy people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury. If thou at all take thy neighbor's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down ; for that is his covering only; it is his raiment for his skin, wherein shall he sleep! And it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me that I will hear him, FOR I AM GRACIOUS. He who will thus look on a poor man, will not fail to look on those who cry to him for salvation. There are innumerable passages of Scripture, in which he represents himself under the touching relation of a parent ; of a father pitying his children, giving them everything; of a mother comforting them: bearing them on his mind with greater constancy of affection, than is even felt by the mother towards her nursing infant. He declares, that in all their afflictions he is afflicted ; and that by the angel of his presence he will save them. He assures them, that us the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so he is round about them that fear him. He says, he that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye. Think of these, and many, many more endearing reiations which he sustains, and then ask, if it be probable that he will reject spiritual, humble, fervent, persevering prayer.
10. Finally, the experience of the people of God forms a strong ground of encouragement to engage and persevere in the exercise of
prayer. And here, to which of the saints shall we turn? Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Daniel, Paul; these were all men of prayer, and they all rejoiced in its efficacy and success. In fact, the very exercise of prayer does good ; it calls up to our recollection our very necessities; it is calculated to inspire gratitude
and confidence; it tends to bring the various perfections of God full to view ; and in every way it is likely to benefit the individual who engages in it.
in it. The reasonableness of the exercise, the comparative ease with which it may be engaged in, and the ample encouragement held out, leave all without excuse who neglect it. From the whole may we not infer,
1. That the privileges of good men are very great. Whatever may be the wants they feel, they have a Father in heaven whose eyes are ever upon them, whose heart is love, whose hands are ever open, whose stores are ever boundless and inexhaustible. They have an advocate ever nigh, able and willing to plead their cause. They have a Spirit to help their infirmities, and to teach them how to come to God in the exercise of prayer, acceptable to him. The throne of grace is accessible at all times, and God is a very present help in trouble. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Let us, my brethren, prize and improve this privilege. Let us avail ourselves of its advantages to the utmost. Let us be often found at the throne of grace, supplicating the divine mercy and imploring the divine aid.
Let us erect the family altar, and bring before the Lord our domestic afflictions, and ask his sustaining grace. Let us enter into our closets, and pray to our Father in secret; and our Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward us openly.
2. How ought we to bless God for a Mediator. But for him, there could be no access to God; no blessings of salvation could be enjoyed. But the Mediator has removed all obstructions out of the way, and made the throne of mercy accessible. How graciously has he toiled, how earnestly entreated, how willingly suffered, that the path of promise might not be hidden, and that none of God's creatures might leave the way of life for lack of a cheering voice, or an assisting arm. Weak, sinful, ignorant, in our best desires and purest offerings, and often dreading to approach directly to him who is infinitely pure and cannot look on sin; how consoling it is to know, that there is one to offer encouragement and hope, and to lead us tenderly by the hand to our heavenly Father's feet; one himself who has shared our infirmities, and can, therefore, pity them ; who has himself endured temptations, and borne our weakness; and who, tender and forbearing, breaks not the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax, and whose accents to the humble and believing are full of encouragements and peace. Let these cheering thoughts dispel from our minds gloomy and desponding apprehensions. Let us remember, he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things. Seeing that we have this great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession, and come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 3. How evident is the sin and folly of those who neglect prayer.
To cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God, is evidence of impiety and wickedness. And the case is much the same with those who pray coldly and indifferently. God, the God of grace and glory, is seated on his throne; he invites you to come that you may be blessed, and you keep away. 0 what cruelty do you practice upon your souls! If you are lean and lifeless, and not what you ought to be, it may be generally traced to the neglect of prayer. The whole world cannot supply a single want of one soul, but God can supply the wants of all souls; and he will supply the wants of those who call upon him. Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it. O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.
“When ye tast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance ; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.”—Matt. vi., 16.
Religious fasting has been practised by most nations, from the remotest antiquity. Some divines even pretend it had its origin in the earthly paradise, where our first parents were forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge. But, though this seems to be carrying the matter too far, it is certain that the Jewish church has observed fasts ever since its first institution. Nor were the neighboring heathens, the Egyptians, Phenicians, and Assyrians, without their fasts. The Egyptians, according to Herodotus, sacrificed a cow to Isis, after having prepared themselves by fasting and prayer: a custom which he likewise attributes to the women of Cyrene. Porphyry affirms, that the Egyptians, before their stated sacrifices, always tasted a great many days, sometimes for six weeks, and that the least continued for seven days; during all of which time, the priests and devotees not only abstained from flesh, fish, wine, and oil, but even from bread, and some kinds of pulse. These austerities were communicated by them to the Greeks, who observed their fasts much in the same manner. The Athenians had the Eleusinian and Thesmophorian fasts, the observance of which was very rigorous, especially among the females, who spent one whole day sitting on the ground, in a mournful dress, without taking any nourishment. In the island of Crete, the priests of Jupiter were obliged to abstain all their lives from fish, flesh, and baked meats. Apulieus informs us, that whoever had a mind to be initiated into the mysteries of Cybele, were obliged to prepare themselves by fasting
ten days; and, in short, all the pagan deities, whether male or female, required this duty of those that desired to be initiated into their mysteries of their priests and priestesses that gave the oracles,
, and of those that came to consult them.
Among the heathens, fasting was also practised before some of their military enterprises. Aristotle informs us, that the Lacedemonians having resolved to succor a city of the allies, ordained a fast throughout their whole dominions, without excepting even the domestic animals. And this they did for two ends: one, to spare provisions in favor of the besieged; the other, to draw down the blessings of heaven upon their enterprise. The inhabitants of Tarentum, when besieged by the Romans, demanded succors from their neighbors of Rhegium, who immediately commanded a fast throughout their whole territories. Their enterprise having had good success by their throwing a supply of provisions into the town, the Romans were compelled to raise the siege; and the Tarentines, in memory of this deliverance, instituted a perpetual fast.
Fasting has always been considered a particular duty among philosophers and religious people, some of whom have carried their abstinence to an incredible length. At Rome it was practised by kings and emperors themselves. Numa Pompilius, Julius Cæsar, Augustus, Vespasian, and others, we are told, had their stated fastdays; and Julian the Apostate was so exact in this observance, as to outdo the priests themselves, and even the most rigid philosophers. The Pythagoreans kept a continual lent; but with this difference, that they believed the use of fish to be equally unlawful with that of flesh. Besides their constant temperance, they also frequently fasted rigidly, for a long time. In this respect, however, they were all outdone by their master, Pythagoras, who continued his fast for no less than forty days together. Even Apollonius Tyaneus, one of his most famous disciples, could not come up to him in the length of his fasts, though they greatly exceeded those of the ordinary Pythagoreans. The Gymnosophists, or Brachmans of the east, are also very remarkable for their severe fastings; and the Chinese, according to Father Lecompte, have also their stated fasts, with forms of prayer for preserving them from barrenness, inundations, earthquakes, &c. The Mahometans, too, who possess so large a part of Asia, are very remarkable for the strict observance of their fasts; and the exactness of their devices, in this respect, is extraordinary.
The abstinence of the ancient Jews commonly lasted twentyseven or eight hours at a time; beginning before sunset, and not ending till some hours after sunset next day. On these days they were obliged to wear white robes, in token of grief and repentance; to cover themselves with sackcloth, or their worst clothes; to lie on ashes, to sprinkle them on their heads, &c. Some spent the whole night and day following in the temple, or synagogue, in prayers and other devotions, barefooted, with, a scourge in their
and willing to impart them as our necessities require, for he gives grace to help in time of need.
3. God will hear those prayers that are offered up under the guidance and assistance of his Spirit. Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for we as we ought ; but the Spirit itself maketh intercessions for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. This he does through the teaching of the word of God, which is given as a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path. And he also creates in the soul such a deep feeling of its interest in the things for which it supplicates, that it can only groan; and this groaning the apostle declares to be unutterable. The Christian either cannot find words at all, or is led to ask God for what he cannot understand. It is the breathing of a new nature for objects congenial to it. God ever hears such prayers. Such a Christian stands on high ground; but he wishes to stand on higher, and to go on to perfection. He never forgets that it is not the words contained in prayer, but the feelings of the heart, that constitute true prayer in the sight of God. In the fifty-first Psalm, we have more of the true spirit of prayer, than in any other portion of the Bible besides. What deep penitence pervaded the heart of David, and what de. vout aspirations inspired his soul, when he offered up his prayer to God! The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit : a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. When the heart speaks to God, words are a matter of indifference.
4. Our prayers to find acceptance with God, should be offered up through the mediation of his Son. As all the blessings of the gospel which we enjoy, have been conferred upon us through Christ; so our services and sacrifices, which we are enabled to perform and offer, should be presented to the Father in and through him. Our prayers should be offered to God in the name and through the mediation of his Son. He is the hallowed altar on which all the offerings of his disciples must be laid, in order that they may rise up with acceptance before God. Jesus Christ inculcated this doctrine in the most clear and explicit language. Whatsoever, said he, ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man cometh into the Father but by me. The apostles enjoined upon all the churches to approach God in praise and prayer, in thanksgiving and confession, through him, by him, and in his name. tion has ever been observed ; but the constant devotion of believers, have ascended to God through Christ. They come to the mercyseat, not in their own name, but in that of the Mediator, and hope to be heard because they come through him. Such are the prayers that God will hear, and in answer to which he will send down the blessings of his love. Such prayers as these are the marrow of devotion and the essence of religion. This is true Christianitythe life of God in the soul. This is the grand end of all knowledge,