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that they do ask frequently—nay, unremittingly, yet receive not. But how have they asked ? With absent hearts, distracted minds, and wandering thoughts; without fervour, without devotion. He who prays fervidly, devoutly, spiritually, shall receive “the righteous man's reward.” God promises to such a gracious hearing, and when did his promise ever fail of its accomplishment ? “If any of you lack wisdom," says St. James, "let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him : but, let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Şincerity, intentness of mind, and devotion of heart, are the true features of earnest prayer. Words are the mere signs by which we exhibit our thoughts. They can have no power of themselves in propitiating the good will of Him to whom the most secret operations of the mind are known; and, therefore, if our hearts unite not with our lips, in addressing the Deity, our petitions must ever be rejected, and our prayers will become an abomination.
“In everything," writes the Apostle, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Here, the manner of praying is definitively signified. We are to supplicate. Supplication supposes at once humility of spirit, earnestness of heart, and sincerity of purpose.
supposes an engagement of the whole soul in the supplication made. No mere form of words, therefore, can constitute effectual prayer. To be effectual, it must be sincere, it must be ardent. It must combine and concentrate our most fervid aspirations. Let it be noted also, that our prayers are to be made with thanksgiving. Here is another distinction, which implies an employment of the whole heart, an absorption of the whole mind, in this religious exercise. For thanksgiving, where it is sincere—and it can be of no avail where it is not
elevates the soul, occupies it, absorbs it. It frequently produces this effect, even when offered to men, to whom we really can owe so little; much more, then, should it do so when offered to God, to whom our obligations are so mighty and prevailing. Let us remember, too, that “He who knew no sin," but became the Saviour of a guilty world, constantly retired to pray; that a daily portion of his life was occupied in prayer; that the whole of his public ministry was dedicated to the service of God by the works which he wrought for the benefit of man. He was spotless, sinless, perfect; still he dedicated a large portion of his time to devotion. His example, then, must be to us a sufficient earnest of its necessity. It will be obvious, that if He found it necessary to pray, it must be more necessary
for us to do so. And where shall we want an inducement thus to address the fountain of light and life, when we are assured, that "he will regard the supplication of the destitute, and not despise their prayer”?
And yet, how is this most important duty neg
lected! How few are there among us who perform it as we should ! How few even among those who assemble here so especially under God's all-seeing eye to offer Him their homage, “sing praises to Him with understanding," glory in his holy name, or “serve him with joyfulness!" If I were to ask you for what purpose we are assembled here, you would no doubt, readily confess, that it is “to lift up our faces unto God;" to praise Him in his holy temple, and declare our delight in him ; to wean our thoughts for awhile from the world and its temptations, to acknowledge our sins, to bewail our infirmities, to implore his pardon, and to supplicate his grace. You will allow, that we come here to renew our petitions to "the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ the righteous," for his advocacy with the Father in our behalf; to promise in the public assembly of his worshippers “to amend our lives according to his holy word;" to offer unto Him the sacrifice of a contrite heart. You will readily acknowledge, that we come here to pray,
many, who come with that professed purpose, perform it? With heartless negligence, with lifeless apathy, with frigid indifference! Shall I be far from the truth when I assert, that the public worship of our church is but too often scarcely better than a solemn pantomime? A service of action rather than of fervid aspiration; an offering of words rather than of thoughts, of outward forms than of holy purposes ? The ges
tures of devotion are, indeed, assumed, though the worshipper's heart is frequently fixed anywhere but on his God. “God is not in all his thoughts,” perhaps occupies none of them; and though it may be said of him, “behold he prayeth," it is nothing more than that unmeaning ejaculation of “Lord, Lord,” with which Christ reproaches those Pharisees who prayed rather to be."seen of men,” than to “have praise of God." But let the formalist consider, are not such prayers a mockery? Are they not an insult to “the mighty Majesty on High”? Who can think such worship worthy the divine favour? It were better never to pray than to do it with coldness, indifference, or neglect. To neglect the Almighty altogether, is, if possible, less criminal than to mock Him with pretences. Suffer.me to remind you, that simply "treading
“ the courts of the sanctuary,” and joining in the forms of its worship, without an engagement of the heart to Him who spiritually presides there, will avail nothing in securing his favour. There is no magic in the mere walls of a church, to “break the bonds” of sin, to purify the soul, and bring it “without spot to God.” It may, in truth, imbibe deeper stains of corruption within God's temple than out of it, where that temple is made the scene of unholy thoughts, hypocritical pretensions, worldly abstractions, and indecent irreverence; where religion is made the cloak of vice, and hypocrisy lies bedded in the heart. For, although “God heareth
the prayers of the righteous," and those prayers “are his delight;" nevertheless, the mere lip-services of the formalist “his soul hateth, they are a trouble unto Him, He is weary to bear them." It is, indeed, dangerous not to pray, but it is still more dangerous to pray with inattention, carelessness and irreverence. Although prayer is absolutely necessary towards our rendering the sacrifice, which the Saviour made for our sins, an available sacrifice to us, still, I repeat, that our prayers must possess certain qualities to render them effectual. Whilst they exhibit only the "outward and visible sign” of piety, they will possess no inherent value. The vital principle must elevate them to devotion, or they will be nothing better than the “tinkling cymbal." Christ himself assures us, “ whatsoever ye shall
« ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” The necessity of prayer is here, too, unequivocally implied, because it is only what we ask in prayer that is promised. That it must be something beyond the mere external form of supplication, is further implied by the qualification expressed as necessary to render it efficacious—namely, faith; and where this exists in full activity, the heart must be holy before God. It is the “effectual, fervent prayer only of the righteous man which availeth;" the greatest sinner, however, becomes righteous when he repents and turns from the error of his ways. Let us then heartily pray that we