Page images

the great Ends of his Providence, in fending his Son, and calling us to Repentance; and that they are a reaJonable Service. The general Method which I fhall obferve, will be to fet forth the Nature, Ufe, and Efficacy of thefe Appointments.. By the First 1 fhall fhew what the Inftitution means; by the Second, the Reafons why it was appointed; by the Third, the Encouragement we have to a diligent Obfervance of it. And because a mere external Compliance with these Inftitutions will neither anfwer the End of their Appointment, nor procure to us the Benefits intended by them, it will therefore be neceffary, in the laft Place, that I hew, what are thofe Qualifications which are previously requifite to fit and prepare us to perform them in a worthy and acceptable Manner. I fhall treat first of Prayer, because that is virtually contained under the other, and, in the Order of Nature, antecedent to it.

The End of Prayer is to recognize God as the Creator and Governor of the World. It is not to make known to him our Wants, which he understandeth better than we do ourselves; but it is to acknowledge, and make folemn Profeffion, that he is the Author of all Good to us, and that as we are indebted to him for what we have, fo what we want mult come from him. This fhews, that God's Knowledge of our Wants is no Reason why we ought not to pray, fuppofing that any good Account can be given why God hath commanded us to recognize him as the Author of all Good; and there is this natural Reafon to be given for it, that this conftant Acknowledgment of God's fovereign Dominion, which Prayer implies, is a conftant Call to Duty. For we can never reflect that God is our Creator, without confidering, at the fame Time, that we owe him Obedience. It is this Senfe of God prevail. ing in our Minds, that is the Foundation of all Religion. For what other Reafon have we to yield Obedience to God than this, that to him we owe ourselves, and all that is dear and valuable to us, the Blefings of this Life, and the Glories of the next? If we were 6 ourfelves

Ourselves the Authors of our own Good, we fhould owe Obedience to none: Or if there were any other Being wh ch could claim a Partnership with God in the Benefits which we receive, he also would have a Right to be a Sharer with him in the Homage that we pay : But if we are God's, and not our own; if he is our Benefactor, and none elfe independent of him; the Inference is eafy and natural, that he has eminently, ard above all, a Right to our Obedience; and that therefore we are not to difpleafe him in pleafing ourselves; no, not in pleafing the whole World; for his is the whole World, and he is the Lord of all, because he is the Maker and Preferver of all.

This is a Conclufion which naturally arifes in every Man's Mind, upon the Confideration of the Being and governing Providence of God. But if we grow unmindful of thefe Things, Religion will be lott; and this may easily be; for God does not make himself known to us in fuch a Way as to force himfelf upon us whether we will or no. If he were to be feen with our bodily Eyes, and we could behold him from the Throne of his Glory, dealing out his Bleffings among us with an indulgent and plenteous Hands; fending us Food, fending us Raiment, fending us all Things; in not knowing him, we should be more fenfeleis than the Brutes; for the Ox knoweth his Owner, and the A/s his Mofier's Crib. But because we are here to walk by Faith, and not by Sight, we therefore want fome external Warnings to put us upon making ufe of our Reafon, and confidering what we are, and to whom we are indebted for all we have, and all we hope for: And what more effectual Courfe could God have taken to beget in us an habitual Senfe and Conviction of this, than by making it our Duty, that so often as we feel our own Wants, fo often we should bear Witnefs, with our own Mouths, of his Sovereign Power and Goodness, and of our Infuffici. ency to do any Thing without him? I do not fay that Prayer is a Means absolutely neceffary to put us in Mind that we are Creatures depending upon God. All the Works of Providence which we fee about us, are an


Evidence of this great Truth, which we are at all Times at Liberty to take Notice of, if we find ourselves fo difpofed. But to fecure this Temper of Mind, and to make it familiar to us, we should find it no easy Matter, if there were nothing to check that natural Propenfity, which we all of us feel, to let ourselves loofe to those more pleafing Reflections, which Senfe and Paffion are ever apt to throw in our Way.

This (if there was nothing more in it) would account for an Obfervation no lefs true than common, That in Proportion as Men accuftom themselves to neglect their Prayers, they grow more loofe and careless in their general Behaviour. For through Lack of thefe Calls to Thought and Confideration, the Mind infenfibly fteals away from the Creator to the Creature. And for the felf-fame Reafon, bad Men are never lefs at Eafe, than when they are obliged, on fome worldly Views, to do Homage to their Maker, or rather to make a Show and Appearance of doing it; for they muft be quite ftupid, and paft feeling, if the Solemnity of Religious Worship will not raife thofe Reflections which gall the Confcience, and make them uneafy with themselves. You will fee this very plainly, if you will apply this Reafoning to thofe feveral Acts of Worfhip, which by common Ufe are generally comprized under the Notion of Prayer, and the Particulars which are the Subject Matter of it. Prayer, in the strict Senfe, is the calling upon God for the Supply of our Wants, and thefe are either Temporal or Spiritual. Chrift hath taught us to pray for our daily Bread; which comprehends both the Neceffaries and the Conveniencies of Life. Put this Prayer now into the Mouth of a Glutton, or a Sot, and fee where will be the Decency of it. Can you ask of God the Continuance of thofe Bleffings, which you every Day abufe to his Dishonour? So we are taught to pray for the Forgiveness of our Sins, and the Aids of God's Grace;. which may well become us, if we mean to repent and amend: But can you afk that Grace which you turn into Wantonnefs? Can you beg of God to forgive


you thofe Sins to Day, of which you are refolved, if Opportunity ferves, to be guilty again to Morrow? Finally; we are taught not only to afk for what we want, but to return Thanks alfo for Benefits received; which will be a reasonable Service, if we bear with us a grateful Mind. But can we profefs Thankfulness with our Mouths, and deny it by our wicked Works?

[ocr errors]

-They who come to their Prayers without any Degree of Attention or Seriousness, may do these with as much Eafe as they do many other abfurd Things: But if bad Men will but mind what they are about, there is that in Prayer, which will be a Reproach to them, and fhame them into fome good Refolutions. And therefore it is a very idle Thing to ask, "To "what End should we pray, fince God, infinite in "Wisdom, knows our Wants, and infinite in Good"nefs, must be fuppofed at all Times ready to beflow upon us what he fees to be needful?" This is an old Objection against Prayer; and it is obfervable, that thofe who reafoned in this Manner rejected * all Inftitutions. With great Confistency with themselves! For if you measure the Value of thefe Things by their natural Efficacy, as to God, they are all alike. God has no more need of Prayer than he has of Sacrifices; and how little that is, he tells us himself, Ifa. i. 11. To what Purpofe is the Multitude of your Sacrifices TO ME, Jaith the Lord? I DELIGHT NOT in the Blood of Bullocks, or of Lambs, or of He goats. Pfal. 1. 12. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee, for the World is mine, and the Fulness thereof Will I eat the Flesh of Bulls, or drink the Blood of Goats? But as God commanded Sacrifices, of which he had no need, fo he hath commanded Prayer, of which he hath no need; and both for the fame Refon, viz be. cause Men needed them to be as Memoria's of his governing Providence, and to keep alive that Faith and Trust in him, which is neceffary to their well doing.


Thus much for the Nature and Use of Prayer; which appears, in its general Notion, to be no more * Vid. Origen de Orat, § 11.


than a Recognition of God as the Creator and Governor of the World. And thus far Prayer is a Part of Worship, not peculiar to Christianity, but common to all Religions in the World. How it came to be so, is a Question very easily anfwered. For thofe who think not Prayer to be a natural Duty, may fee its Appointment in the Appointment of Sacrifice; for Sacrifice is Prayer by outward Symbols; and the Appointment of Sacrifices is as old as the Fall of Man. But there is a Circumftance in Chriftian Prayer peculiar to Chriftianity, which makes it to be a Recognition of God, not only as our Creator, but as our Redeemer; for we are commanded to pray for all Things in the NAME of Chrift, i. e. in Truft in his meretorious all-fufficient Sacrifice; and in this View it is an Inftrument ferving to perpetuate the Memory of our Redemption, and to excite in our Minds all thofe grateful Sentiments, which the Confideration of our Redemption yields. Now as Prayer, whether publickly or privately performed, is, in the Nature of it, one and the fame Thing, it may be demanded, what particular Uies. are ferved by its being commanded to be done publickly; and they are these.

1. The Duty is hereby more fecure from being neglected. When Things are to pafs only between God and Mens Confciences, and they have nothing to influence them but the Ingenuity of their Temper, it is an eafy Matter for them to grow remifs and careless. But when they cannot commit a Fault, but the World must take Notice of it, this lays hold of natural Modefty, and the Concern which every Man has for his own Credit, will help to keep him within fome Bounds of Decency. In the first Ages, thofe who cuftomarily abfented themfelves from God's publick Worship, fell under the Cenfures of the Church, and were denied. the Privileges of Chriftian Fellowship. This was intended to thame them into better Manners, as in all other Cafes where the like Difcipline was exercised. For fo fays St. Paul, 2. Theff. iii. 14. Note that Man, and have no Company with him, that he may be ashamed.


« PreviousContinue »