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obtained, and will certainly be granted to us; because they are promised by God, who is incapable of deception. And this agrees with that form of petition already quoted—“Do this, O Lord, for thy name sake, not for our sake, or for our righteousness;” in which the saints not only express the end of their prayers, but acknowledge that they are unworthy to obtain it, unless God derive the cause from himself, and that their confidence of success arises solely from his nature. XLVIII. Whatever we ought, or are even at liberty, to seek from God, is stated to us in this model and directory for prayer, given by that best of masters, Christ, whom the Father hath set over us as our Teacher, and to whom alone he hath enjoined us to listen. (b) For he was always his eternal wisdom, and being made man was given to men as the Angel of great counsel. (c) And this prayer is so comprehensive and complete, that whatever addition is made of any thing extraneous or foreign, not capable of being referred to it, is impious and unworthy of the approbation of God. For in this summary he has prescribed what is worthy of him, what is acceptable to him, what is necessary for us, and, in a word, what he chooses to bestow. Wherefore those who presume to go beyond it, and to ask of God any thing else, in the first place, are determined to make some addition of their own to the wisdom of God, which cannot be done without folly and blasphemy; in the next place, despising the limits fixed by the will of God, they are led far astray by their own irregular desires: and in the last place, they will never obtain any thing, when they pray without faith. And there is no doubt that all prayers of this kind are made without faith, because they are not sanctioned by the word of God, the only basis on which faith can stand. But they who neglect the Master's rule and indulge their own desires, not only deviate from the word of God, but make all possible opposition against it. With equal elegance and truth, therefore, Tertullian has called this a legitimate prayer, tacitly implying, that all others are irregular and unlawful. XLIX. We would not here be understood, as if we were confined to this form of prayer, without the liberty of changing
(b) Matt. xvii. 5. (c) Isaiah xi. 2.
a word or syllable. For the scriptures contain many prayers, expressed in words very different from this, yet written by the same Spirit, and very profitable for our use. Many, which have little verbal resemblance to it, are continually suggested to the faithful by the same Spirit. We only mean by these observations, that no one should even seek, expect, or ask for any thing that is not summarily comprehended in this prayer, though there may be a diversity of expression, without any variation of sense. As it is certain that all the prayers contained in the Scriptures, or proceeding from pious hearts, are referred to this, so it is impossible to find one any where which can surpass or even equal the perfection of this. Here is nothing omitted which ought to be recollected for the praises of God, nothing that should occur to the mind of man for his own advantage; and the whole is so complete, as justly to inspire universal despair of attempting any improvement. To conclude, let us remember, that this is the teaching of Divine wisdom, which taught what it willed, and willed what was needful. L. But though we have before said that we ought to be always aspiring towards God with our minds, and praying without intermission, yet as our weakness requires many assistances, and our indolence needs to be stimulated; we ought every one of us, for the sake of regularity, to appoint particular hours which should not elapse without prayer, and which should witness all the affections of the mind entirely engaged in this exercise: as, when we rise in the morning, before we enter on the business of the day, when we sit down to meat, when we have been fed by the Divine blessing, when we retire to rest. This must not be a superstitious observance of hours, by which, as if discharging our debt to God, we may fancy ourselves discharged from all obligation for the remaining hours; but a discipline for our weakness, which may thus, from time to time, be exercised and stimulated. It must especially be the object of our solicitous care, whenever we are oppressed, or see others oppressed with adversity, immediately to resort to him with celerity, not of body but of mind; secondly, to suffer no prosperity of our own or others to pass without testifying our acknowledgment of his love by praise and thanksgiving: lastly, we must carefully observe this in every prayer; that we entertain not the thought of binding God to certain circumstances, or prescribing to him the time, the place, or the manner of his proceedings. As we are taught by this prayer to fix no law, to impose no condition on him, but to leave it to his will to do what he intends, in the manner, at the time, and in the place he pleases. Therefore, before we form a petition for ourselves, we first pray that his will may be done; thereby submitting our will to his, that, being as it were bridled and restrained, it may not presume to regulate God, but may constitute him the arbiter and ruler of all its desires. LI. If with minds composed to this obedience we suffer ourselves to be governed by the laws of Divine Providence, we shall easily learn to persevere in prayer, and with suspended desires to wait patiently for the Lord; assured, though he does not discover himself, yet that he is always near us, and in his own time will declare that his ears have not been deaf to those prayers which, to human apprehension, seemed to be neglected. Now this, if God do not at any time answer our first prayers, will be an immediate consolation, to prevent our sinking into despair, like those who, actuated only by their own ardour, call upon God in such a manner, that if he do not attend to their first transports, and afford them present aid, they at once imagine him to be displeased and angry with them, and, casting away all hope of succeeding in their prayers, cease to call upon him. But deferring our hope with a well-tempered equanimity, let us rather practise the perseverance so highly recommended to us in the Scriptures. For in the Psalms we may frequently observe how David and other faithful men, when almost wearied with praying they seemed to beat the air, and God seemed deaf to their petitions, yet did not desist from praying; because the authority of the Divine word is not maintained, unless it be fully credited, notwithstanding the appearance of any circumstances to the contrary. Nor let us tempt God, and provoke him against us by wearying him with our presumption; which is the practice of many who merely bargain with God on a certain condition, and, as though he were subservient to their passions, bind him with laws of their own stipulation; with which unless he immediately complies, they give way to anger and fretfulness,
to cavils, and murmurs, and rage. To such persons, therefore > he frequently grants in his wrath what he denies in mercy to others. This is exemplified in the children of Israel, for whom it had been better for the Lord not to have heard them, than for them to swallow his indignation with the meat that he sent them. (d) LII. But if, after long waiting, our sense neither understands what advance we have made by praying, nor experiences any advantage resulting from it, yet our faith will assure us, what cannot be perceived by sense, that we have obtained what was expedient for us, since the Lord so frequently and so-certainly. promises to take care of our troubles when they have been once deposited in his bosom. And thus he will cause us to possess abundance in poverty, and consolation in affliction. For though all things fail us, yet God will never forsake us; he cannot disappoint the expectation and patience of his people. He will amply compensate us for the loss of all others, for he comprehends in himself all blessings, which he will reveal to us at the day of judgment, when his kingdom will be fully manifested. Besides, though God grants our prayers, he does not always answer them according to the express form of the request; but seeming to keep us in suspense, shews by unknown means that our prayers were not in vain. This is the meaning of these words of John; “If we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (e) This seems to be a feeble superfluity of expression, but is in reality a very useful declaration, that God, even when he does not comply with our desires, is nevertheless favourable and propitious to our prayers, so that a hope depending upon his word can never disappoint us. Now this patience is very necessary to support the faithful, who would not long stand unless they relied upon it. For the Lord proves his people with heavy trials, and exercises them with severity: frequently driving them to various kinds of extremities, and suffering them to remain in them a long time before he grants them any enjoyment of his grace: and as Hannah says, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth
(d) Numb. xi. 18, 33. (e) 1 John v. 15.
up.” (f) In such distresses must they not inevitably faint in their minds and fall into despair, unless in the midst of their affliction and desolation, and almost death, they were revived by this reflection, that God regards them, and that the end of their present evils is approaching? But though they rely on the certainty of this hope, they at the same time cease not to pray; because, without constant perseverance in prayer, we pray to no purpose. -
Eternal Election, or God's Predestination of some to Salvation and of others to Destruction.
THE covenant of life not being equally preached to all, and among those to whom it is preached not always finding the same reception; this disersity discovers the wonderful depth of the Divine judgment. Nor is it to be doubted that this variety also follows, subject to the decision of God’s eternal election. If it be evidently the result of the Divine will, that salvation is freely offered to some, and others are prevented from attaining it; this immediately gives rise to important and difficult questions, which are incapable of any other explication, than by the establishment of pious minds in what ought to be received concerning election and predestination:—a question, in the opinion of many, full of perplexity; for they consider nothing more unreasonable, than that of the common mass of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to de-\ . struction. But how unreasonably they perplex themselves will afterwards appear from the sequel of our discourse. Besides, the very obscurity which excites such dread, not only displays the utility of this doctrine, but shews it to be productive of the most delightful benefit. We shall never be clearly convinced as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the fountain of
(f) 1 Sam. ii. 6.