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reflection ought to animate the few friends of God in the world to cry mightily for themselves, and for thoughtless, guilty, perishing sinners.
Let them consider, in the next place, the peculiar pleasure to be found in devotion. When do saints enjoy more of heaven upon earth, than while they are drawing near to God, and unbosoming themselves to their heavenly Father? What divine satisfaction did Job, David, Daniel, and other devout men enjoy, while they were fervently praying for the peace and prosperity of Zion! Prayer naturally fixes the attention upon the character, the conduct, and the designs of the Deity, and upon all those great and amiable objects which are suited to gratify every holy and devout affection. Jacob never enjoyed à happier season, than while his whole soul was vigorously wrestling with God in prayer. God is ever ready to reward those who call upon him in sincerity, with the peculiar manifestations of his love. And this is certainly an animating motive to pray without ceasing and without fainting.
Let them consider, in the third place, that humble, fervent, constant prayer, will give them life and spirit in the performance of all other duties. They will meditate, they will read the word of God, they will hear the gospel preached, they will attend divine ordinances, they will pursue their secular concerns, and converse with their fellow men, very much in the same manner in which they call upon God. If they maintain a daily intercourse with the Deity, and sincerely implore his gracious presence and assistance, they will find themselves ready to every good work, and exhibit an amiable example of virtue and piety to all around them. They will most certainly live as they pray.
In the last place, let them seriously consider, that constancy, sincerity and fervency in prayer, will be the best means to prepare them for dying. It is the natural tendency of this duty to inspire the mind with clear and realizing views of invisible and divine objects. It is principally by prayer, that saints become familiar with the scenes which lie beyond the grave, and prepare for an easy and joyful transition out of time into eternity. Hence we find the ancient patriarchs spent their last moments in prayer. The last words of David were employed in thanksgiving and praise. Stephen died calling upon God. And the great Redeemer expired in the act of praying. Those who live prayerfully, are prepared to die prayerfully. And who would not wish to leave this world, and appear before God in a praying frame?
SERMON L XVIII.
THE FAITH OF MIRACLES.
AND all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
MATTHEW, xxi. 22.
In order to set this peculiar promise in a just and clear light, I shall inquire,
I. To whom it was made ;
I. We are to inquire to whom the promise in the text was made.
Soon after Christ began to preach, and had converted a number of his hearers, he chose from among them twelve men to be his disciples ; to whom he gave authority to preach the gospel, and power to work miracles. Matthew says, “ When he had called to him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease." Mark says, “He called unto him whom he would, and they came to him. And he ordained twelve that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.” And Luke tells us, that “after these things, the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city, and place whither he himself would corne," to preach the gospel and work miracles. These particular persons Christ appointed and qualified to preach and to work miracles before his crucifixion; but after his resurrection, and just before his ascension to heaven,
he gave a more general commission to his apostles and to others to work miracles. And he said unto the eleven, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
Here Christ promised to bestow the power of working miracles, not only upon the apostles and their successors in the gospel ministry, but also upon common christians. How long this power of working miracles was continued in the church, it is not easy nor necessary to ascertain; though we have pretty good evidence from ecclesiastical history that it continued, in more or less instances, until the third or fourth century. Now it appears that the promise in the text was made to those who possessed miraculous powers in particular, not only from the context, but from several other similar passages of the scripture. In the verses preceding the text, it is said, “ When Jesus saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away? Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I
you, if ye have faith and doubt not, ye shall not only do this, which is done to the fig tree, but also, if ye shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Mark mentions this same promise in nearly the same language. He says, “ In the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance, saith unto him, Master, behold the fig tree which thou cursedst, is withered away. And Jesus answering, saith unto him, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith: Therefore, I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Our Saviour made a similar promise to his disciples in the fourteenth of John. “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do,” (that is, miraculous works) “shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” He repeats the same promise in the sixteenth of John. “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” It plainly appears from all these similar passages, that ihe promise in the text was made to the apostles, and to all those primitive christians who possessed miraculous powers. Christ promised all such persons, that if they should pray in faith for any miracle, their prayer should be heard, and the very miracle they prayed for should be granted.
II. We are to inquire concerning the extent of the promise. “ All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." Though this promise seems to be indefinite and universal, yet we must suppose it was in some measure, or in some sense, limited. It is very natural to conclude, from the peculiar character of the persons to whom it was made, that it had a sole and immediate respect to the bestowment of miraculous gists. Christ meant to assure those to whom he had given, and should give the power of working miracles, that, if they prayed in faith for any supernatural gift in particular, that particular gift should be granted. But we have no reason to think that, if they prayed for any thing else, believing it would be granted, that particular thing would be granted. The promise was undoubtedly limited and restricted to miraculous gifts, and had no respect to any other favors. If those who possessed the power of working miracles had prayed for any common temporal or spiritual blessings in particular, they had no ground to expect that those particular blessings would be granted in answer to the promise in the text. We know that the apostles and primitive christians were subject to poverty, pain, sickness, and all the common trials and afflictions of the present life; and though they undoubtedly prayed that these natural evils might be prevented, mitigated, or removed, yet it does not appear that their prayers respecting those things were always granted. But if the promise in the text were unlimited and universal, it seems that they might have prayed for any common favors, with the same faith and assurance of being heard, as when they prayed for miraculous gifts.
III. Let us inquire with respect to the condition of the promise under consideration. It is said in the text, “ All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." And in another place it is said, “What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. This promise was expressly made upon the condition of a certain kind of faith. If those to whom it was
made, exercised that certain kind of faith, their faith absolutely secured the fulfilment of the promise; but if they failed of exercising the faith required, the promise was not fulfilled. We find an instance of this in the seventeenth of Matthew. There we read, “ A certain man came to Christ, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son; for he is lunatic, and sore vexed; for oft times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation! how long shall I be with you ? how long shall I suffer you ? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil, and he departed out of him. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” So far we may be assured, that the promise made in the text was made upon the condition of a certain kind of faith, the least degree of which secured the fulfilment of it. The question now is, wherein did the faith of miracles differ from any other kind of faith? To this I answer that it differed from every other kind of faith, in respect to the peculiar foundation of it, which was a peculiar power of working miracles, given to all the apostles and to some common christians, in the primitive days of the gospel. Christ promised those to whom he had given the power of working miracles, that he would assist them in working any miracle they desired to work, upon the condition of their believing that he would assist them, according to his promise; which ran in this form: “ These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” This was a promise distinct from the promise of eternal life to true penitents; and the faith of miracles was built upon this distinct promise, and not upon the promise of eternal life. This appears from the account we have of Peter's faith in working a miracle. “ Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man, lame from his mother's womb, was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple, which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple. Who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked an alms. And Peter fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to