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The inequality of the match between such an one and the subtilest of us, would quickly appear by a fatal circumvention: there must be a wisdom from above, to overreach and master this hellish wisdom from beneath. And this every sanctified person is sure of in his great friend, "in whom all the treasures of wisdom dwell;" treasures that flow out, and are imparted freely, both in direction and assistance, to all that belong to him. He never leaves any of his, perplexed, amazed, or bewildered, where the welfare of their souls requires a better judgment than their own, either to guide them in their duty, or to disentangle them from a temptation. Whosoever has Christ for his friend, shall be sure of counsel; and whosoever is his own friend, will be sure to obey it.
6. The last and crowning privilege, or rather property of friendship, is constancy. He only is a friend, whose friendship lives as long as himself, and who ceases to love and to breathe at the same instant. Not that I yet state constancy in such an absurd, senseless, and irrational continuance in friendship, as no injuries or provocations whatsoever can break off. For there are some injuries that extinguish the very relation between friends. In which case, a man ceases to be a friend, not from any inconstancy in his friendship, but from defect of an object for his friendship to exert itself upon. It is one thing for a father to cease to be a father by casting off his son; and another for him to cease to be so by the death of his son. In this, the relation is at an end for want of a correlate: so in friendship there are some passages of that high and hostile nature, that they really and properly constitute and denominate the person guilty of them an enemy; and if so, how can the other person possibly continue a friend, since friendship essentially requires that it be between two at least; and there can be no friendship, where there are not two friends?
Nobody is bound to look upon his backbiter or his underminer, his betrayer or his oppressor, as his friend. Nor, indeed, is it possible that he should do so, unless he could alter the constitution and order of things, and establish a new nature and a new morality in the world. For to remain insensible of such provocations, is not constancy, but apathy. And therefore they discharge the person so treated from the proper obligations of a friend, though Christianity, I confess, binds him to the duties of a neighbour.
But to give you the true nature and measures of constancy; it is such a stability and firmness of friendship, as overlooks and passes by all those lesser failures of kindness and respect, that, partly through passion, partly through indiscretion, and such other frailties incident to human nature, a man may be sometimes guilty of, and yet still retain the same
habitual good-will and prevailing propensity of mind to his friend, that he had before. And whose friendship soever is of that strength and duration as to stand its ground against, and remain unshaken by, such assaults, (which yet are strong enough to shake down and annihilate the friendship of little puny minds,) such an one, I say, has reached all the true measures of constancy: his friendship is of a noble make and a lasting consistency; it resembles marble, and deserves to be wrote upon it.
But how few tempers in the world are of that magnanimous frame, as to reach the heights of so great a virtue: many offer at the effects of friendship, but they do not last; they are promising in the beginning, but they fail, and jade, and tire in the prosecution. For most people in the world are acted by levity and humour, by strange and irrational changes. And how often may we meet with those who are one while courteous, civil, and obliging, (at least to their proportion,) but within a small time after are so supercilious, sharp, troublesome, fierce, and exceptious, that they are not only short of the true character of friendship, but become the very sores and burdens of society! Such low, such worthless dispositions, how easily are they discovered, how justly are they despised! But now, that we may pass from one contrary to another," Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever" in his being, is so also in his affection. He is not of the number or nature of those pitiful, mean pretenders to friendship, who perhaps will love and smile upon you one day, and not so much as know you the next: many of which sort there are in the world, who are not so much courted outwardly, but that inwardly they are detested much more.
Friendship is a kind of covenant; and most covenants run upon mutual terms and conditions. And therefore, so long as we are exact in fulfilling the condition on our parts, (I mean, exact according to the measures of sincerity, though not of perfection,) we may be sure that Christ will not fail in the least iota to fulfil every thing on his. The favour of relations, patrons, and princes, is uncertain, ticklish, and variable; and the friendship which they take up, upon the accounts of judgment and merit, they most times lay down out of humour. But the friendship of Christ has none of these weaknesses, no such hollowness or unsoundness in it. "For neither principalities nor powers, things present, nor things to come," no, nor all the rage and malice of hell, shall be able to pluck the meanest of Christ's friends out of his bosom ; for, "whom he loves, he loves to the end."
Now, from the particulars hitherto discoursed of, we may infer and learn these two things-1. The excellency and value of
friendship. Christ, the Son of the most high God, the second person in the glorious Trinity, took upon him our nature, that he might give a great instance and example of this virtue; and condescended to be a man, only that he might be a friend. Our Creator, our Lord and King, he was before; but he would needs come down from all this, and in a sort become our equal, that he might partake of that noble quality that is properly between equals. Christ took not upon him flesh and blood, that he might conquer and rule nations, lead armies, or possess palaces; but that he might have the relenting, the tenderness, and the compassions of human nature, which render it properly capable of friendship; and, in a word, that he might have our heart, and we have his. God himself sets friendship above all considerations of kindred or consanguinity, as the greatest ground and argument of mutual endearment, (Deut. xv. 6,) "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee to go and serve other gods, thou shalt not consent unto him." The emphasis of the expression is very remarkable; it being a gradation or ascent, by several degrees of dearness, to that which is the highest of all. Neither wife nor brother, son nor daughter, though the nearest in cognation, are allowed to stand in competition with a friend; who, if he fully answers the duties of that great relation, is indeed better and more valuable than all of them put together, and may serve instead of them; so that he who has a firm, a worthy, and sincere friend, may want all the rest without missing them. That which lies in a man's bosom should be dear to him, but that which lies within his heart ought to be much dearer.
2. In the next place, we learn from hence the high advantage of becoming truly pious and religious. When we have said and done all, it is only the true Christian and the religious person, who is or can be sure of a friend, sure of obtaining, sure of keeping him. But as for the friendship of the world; when a man shall have done all that he can to make one his friend, employed the utmost of his wit and labour, beaten his brains, and emptied his purse, to create an endearment between him and the person whose friendship he desires, he may, in the end, upon all these endeavours and attempts, be forced to write vanity and frustration: for, by them all, he may at last be no more able to get into the other's heart, than he is to thrust his hand into a pillar of brass; the man's affection, amidst all these kindnesses done him, remaining wholly unconcerned and impregnable, just like a rock, which, being plied continually by the waves, still throws them back again into the bosom of the sea that sent
them, but it is not at all moved by any of them.
People at first, while they are young, and raw, and soft-natured, are apt to think it an easy thing to gain love, and reckon their own friendship a sure price of another man's. But when experience shall have once opened their eyes, and shewed them the hardness of most hearts, the hollowness of others, and the baseness and ingratitude of almost all, they will then find that a friend is the gift of God; and that he only, who made hearts, can unite them. For it is he who creates those sympathies and suitablenesses of nature, that are the foundation of all true friendship, and then by his providence brings persons so affected together.
It is an expression frequent in Scripture, but infinitely more significant than at first it is usually observed to be; namely, that God gave such or such a person grace or favour in another's eyes. As, for instance, (Gen. xxxix. 21,) it is said of Joseph, that "the Lord was with him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison." Still it is an invisible hand from heaven that ties this knot, and mingles hearts and souls, by strange, secret, and unaccountable conjunctions.
That heart shall surrender itself and its friendship to one man, at first view, which another has in vain been laying siege to for many years, by all the repeated acts of kindness imaginable.
Nay, so far is friendship from being of any human production, that, unless nature be predisposed to it by its own propensity or inclination, no arts of obligation shall be able to abate the secret hatreds and hostilities of some persons towards others. No friendly offices, no addresses, no benefits whatsoever, shall ever alter or allay that diabolical rancour that frets and ferments in some hellish breasts, but that upon all occasions it will foam out at its foul mouth in slander and invective, and sometimes bite too in a shrewd turn or a secret blow. This is true and undeniable upon frequent experience; and happy those who can learn it at the cost of other men's.
But now, on the contrary, he who will give up his name to Christ in faith unfeigned, and a sincere obedience to all his righteous laws, shall be sure to find love for love, and friendship for friendship. The success is certain and infallible; and none ever yet miscarried in the attempt. For Christ freely offers his friendship to all, and sets no other rate upon so vast a purchase, but only that we would suffer him to be our friend. Thou perhaps spendest thy precious time in waiting upon such a great one, and thy estate in presenting him, and probably, after all, hast no other reward, but sometimes to be smiled upon, and always to be smiled at; and when thy
greatest and most pressing occasions shall call for succour and relief, then to be deserted and cast off, and not known.
Now, I say, turn the stream of thy endeavours another way, and bestow but half that hearty, sedulous attendance upon thy Saviour in the duties of prayer and mortification, and be at half that expense in charitable works, by relieving Christ in his poor members; and, in a word, study as much to please him who died for thee, as thou dost to court and humour thy great patron, who cares not for thee, and thou shalt make him thy friend for ever; a friend who shall own thee in thy lowest condition, speak comfort to thee in all thy sorrows, counsel thee in all thy doubts, answer all thy wants, and, in a word, "never leave thee, nor forsake thee." But when all the hopes that thou hast raised upon the promises or supposed kindnesses of the fastidious and fallacious great ones of the world, shall fail, and upbraid thee to thy face, he shall then take thee into his bosom, embrace, cherish, and support thee, and, as the Psalmist expresses it, he shall guide thee with his counsel here, and afterwards receive thee into glory."
To which God of his mercy vouchsafe to bring us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, &c. Amen.
AGAINST LONG EXTEMPORE PRAYERS.
"Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few."ECCLESIASTES, v. 2.
We have here the wisest of men instructing us how to behave ourselves before God in his own house; and particularly when we address to him in the most important of all duties, which is prayer. Solomon had the honour to be spoken to by God himself, and therefore, in all likelihood, none more fit to teach us how to speak to God. A great privilege certainly for dust and ashes to be admitted to; and therefore it will concern us to manage it so, that in these our approaches to the King of heaven, his goodness may not cause us to forget his greatness, nor (as it is but too usual for subjects to use privilege against prerogative) his honour suffer by his condescension.
In the words we have these three things observable,
3dly and lastly, That this reverence required of him, is to consist in a serious preparation of his thoughts, and a sober government of his expressions: neither is "his mouth to be rash, nor his heart to be hasty, in uttering any thing before God."
These things are evidently contained in the words, and do as evidently contain the whole sense of them. But I shall gather them all into this one proposition; namely,
That premeditation of thought, and brevity of expression, are the great ingredients of that reverence that is required to a pious, acceptable, and devout prayer.
For the better handling of which, we will, in the first place, consider how, and by what way it is, that prayer works upon, or prevails with, God, for the obtaining of the things we pray for. Concerning which, I shall lay down this general rule, That the way by which prayer prevails with God, is wholly different from that by which it prevails with men. And to give you this more particularly.
1. First of all, it prevails not with God by way of information or notification of the thing to him which we desire of him. With men, indeed, this is the common, and with wise men the chief, and should be the only way of obtaining what we ask of them. We represent and lay before them our wants and indigences, and the misery of our condition. Which being made known to them, the quality and condition of the thing asked for, and of the persons who ask it, induces them to give that to us, and to do that for us, which we desire and petition for; but it is not so in our addresses to God, for he knows our wants and our conditions better than we ourselves; he is beforehand with all our prayers, (Matt. vi. 8,) "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him;" and (Psal. cxxxix. 2,) "Thou understandest my thought afar off." God knows our thoughts before the very heart that conceives them. And how, then, can he, who is but of yesterday, suggest any thing new to that eternal mind! how can ignorance inform omniscience!
2dly, Neither does prayer prevail with God by way of persuasion, or working upon the affections, so as thereby to move him to pity or compassion. This, indeed, is the most usual and most effectual way to prevail with men ; who, for the generality, are, one part reason, and nine parts affection. So that one
of a voluble tongue, and a dexterous insinua tion, may do what he will with vulgar minds, and with wise men too, at their weak times. But God, who is as void of passion or affection, as he is of quantity or corporeity, is not to be dealt with this way. He values not our rhetoric, nor our pathetical harangues. He who applies to God, applies to an infinite almighty reason, a pure act, all intellect, the first mover, and therefore not to be moved or wrought upon himself. In all passion, the mind suffers, (as the very signification of the word imports,) but absolute, entire perfection cannot suffer; it is and must be immovable, and by consequence impassible. And therefore,
In the third and last place, much less is God to be prevailed upon by importunity, and, as it were, wearying him into a concession of what we beg of him. Though with men we know this also is not unusual. A notable instance of which we have in Luke, xviii. 4, 5, where the unjust judge being with a restless vehemence sued to for justice, says thus 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 me."
In like manner, how often are beggars relieved only for their eager and rude importunity; not that the person who relieves them is thereby informed or satisfied of their real want, nor yet moved to pity them by all their cry and cant, but to rid himself from their vexatious noise and din; so that to purchase his quiet by a little alms he gratifies the beggar, but indeed relieves himself. But now this way is farther from prevailing with God than either of the former. For as omniscience is not to be informed, so neither is omnipotence to be wearied. We may much more easily think to clamour the sun and stars out of their courses, than to word the great Creator of them out of the steady purposes of his own will, by all the vehemence and loudness of our petitions. Men may tire themselves with their own prayers, but God is not to be tired. The rapid motion and whirl of things here below, interrupts not the inviolable rest and calmness of the nobler beings above. While the winds roar and bluster here in the first and second regions of the air, there is a perfect serenity in the third. Men's desires cannot control God's decrees.
And thus I have shewn, that the three ways by which men prevail with men in their prayers and applications to them, have no place at all in giving any efficacy to their addresses to God.
which God has freely promised to convey his blessings to men. God of his own absolute, unaccountable good-will and pleasure, has thought fit to appoint and fix upon this as the means by which he will supply and answer the wants of mankind. As for instance; suppose a prince should declare to any one of his subjects, that if he shall appear before him every morning in his bed-chamber, he shall receive of him a thousand talents. We must not here imagine, that the subject, by making this appearance, does either move or persuade his prince to give him such a sum of money; no, he only performs the condition of the promise, and thereby acquires a right to the thing promised. He does, indeed, hereby engage his prince to give him this sum, though he does by no means persuade him; or rather, to speak more strictly and properly, the prince's own justice and veracity is an engagement upon the prince himself, to make good his promise to him who fulfils the conditions of it.
But you will say, that upon this ground it will follow, that when we obtain any thing of God by prayer, we have it upon claim of justice, and not by way of gift, as a free result of his bounty.
But you will ask then, Upon what account is it that prayer becomes prevalent and efficacious with God, so as to procure us the good things we pray for I answer, Upon this, that it is the fulfilling of that condition upon
I answer, that both these are very well consistent; for though he who makes a promise upon a certain condition, is bound in justice upon the fulfilling of that condition to perform his promise; yet it was perfectly grace and goodness, bounty and free mercy, that first induced him to make the promise, and particularly to state the tenor of it upon such a condition. "If we confess our sins," says the apostle, (1 John, i. 9,) "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Can any thing be freer and more the effect of mere grace, than the forgiveness of sins? And yet it is certain from this Scripture and many more, that it is firmly promised us upon condition of a penitent hearty confession of them, and consequently as certain it is, that God stands obliged here even by his faithfulness and justice, to make good this his promise of forgiveness to those who come up to the terms of it by such a confession.
In like manner, for prayer, in reference to the good things prayed for. He who prays for a thing as God has appointed him, gets thereby a right to the thing prayed for; but it is a right, not springing from any merit or condignity, either in the prayer itself, or the person who makes it, to the blessing which he prays for, but from God's veracity, truth, and justice, who, having appointed prayer as the condition of that blessing, cannot but stand to what he himself had appointed, though that he did appoint it, was the free result and determination of his own will.
We have a full account of this whole mat
ter from God's own mouth, (Psalm 1.) "Call upon me," says God, "in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." These are evidently the terms upon which God answers prayers: in which case there is no doubt but the deliverance is still of more worth than the prayer; and there is as little doubt also, that without such a previous declaration made on God's part, a person so in trouble or distress might pray his heart out, and yet God not be in the least obliged by all his prayers, either in justice or honour, or indeed so much as in mercy, to deliver him; for mercy is free, and misery cannot oblige it. In a word, prayer procures deliverance from trouble, just as Naaman's dipping himself seven times in Jordan procured him a deliverance from his leprosy not by any virtue in itself adequate to so great an effect, you may be sure; but from this, that it was appointed by God as the condition of his recovery; and so obliged the power of him, who appointed it, to give force and virtue to his own institution, beyond what the nature of the thing itself could otherwise have raised it to.
Let this therefore be fixed upon, as the ground-work of what we are to say upon this subject, That prayer prevails with God for the blessing that we pray for, neither by way of information, nor yet of persuasion, and much less by the importunity of him who prays, and least of all by any worth in the prayer itself, equal to the thing prayed for; but it prevails solely and entirely upon this account, that it is freely appointed by God, as the stated, allowed condition, upon which he will dispense his blessings to mankind.
But before I dismiss this consideration, it may be inquired, whence it is that prayer, rather than any other thing, comes to be appointed by God for this condition. In answer to which; Though God's sovereign will be a sufficient reason of its own counsels and determinations, and consequently a more than sufficient answer to all our inquiries; yet, since God in his infinite wisdom still adapts means to ends, and never appoints a thing to any use, but what it has a particular and a natural fitness for, I shall therefore presume to assign a reason why prayer, before all other things, should be appointed to this noble use, of being the condition and glorious conduit, whereby to derive the bounties of heaven upon the sons of men; and it is this; because prayer, of all other acts of a rational nature, does most peculiarly qualify a man to be a fit object of the divine favour, by being most eminently and properly an act of dependence upon God; since to pray, or beg a thing of another, in the very nature and notion of it, imports these two things,-1. That the person praying stands in need of some good, which he is not able by any power of his own to procure for himself; and, 2. That he
acknowledges it in the power and pleasure of the person whom he prays to, to confer it upon him. And this is properly that which men call to depend.
But some may reply, There is an universal dependence of all things upon God; forasmuch as he, being the great fountain and source of being, first created, and since supports them by the word of his power; and, consequently, that this dependence belongs indifferently to the wicked as well as to the just, whose prayer nevertheless is declared an abomination to God.
But to this the answer is obvious, That the dependence here spoken of is meant, not of a natural, but of a moral dependence; the first is necessary, the other voluntary; the first common to all, the other proper to the pious; the first respects God barely as a Creator, the other addresses to him as a Father. Now such a dependence upon God it is, that is properly seen in prayer. And being so, if we should in all humble reverence set ourselves to examine the wisdom of the divine proceeding in this matter, even by the measures of our own reason, what could be more rationally thought of for the properest instru ment to bring down God's blessings upon the world, than such a temper of mind, as makes a man disown all ability in himself to supply his own wants, and at the same time own a transcendent fulness and sufficiency in God to do it for him? And what can be more agreeable to all principles both of reason and religion, than that a creature endued with understanding and will, should acknowledge that dependence upon his Maker, by a free act of choice, which other creatures have upon him, only by necessity of nature?
But still, there is one objection more against our foregoing assertion, namely, That prayer obtains the things prayed for, only as a condition, and not by way of importunity or persuasion; for is not prayer said to prevail by frequency, (Luke, xviii. 7,) and by fervency, or earnestness, (James, v. 16,) and is not this a fair proof that God is importuned and persuaded into a grant of our petitions?
To this I answer two things,-1. That wheresoever God is said to answer prayers, either for their frequency or fervency, it is spoken of him only vegоatas, according to the manner of men; and consequently, ought to be understood only of the effect or issue of such prayers, in the success certainly attending them, and not of the manner of their efficiency, that it is by persuading or working upon the passions: as if we should say, frequent, fervent, and importunate prayers, are as certainly followed with God's grant of the thing prayed for, as men use to
nt that, which, being overcome by excessive importunity and persuasion, they cannot find in their hearts to deny. 2. I answer