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fence pf a great Man, and never present a Petition to a Prince but upon our Knees ., and shall we shew less Reve- v rence to God Almighty, than we are wont to do to our Fellow-Creatures? -The Prophet Malacbi brings in the Almighty upbraiding the Irreverence of such as present him with the Lame, and the Blind, and other indecent Sacrifices j bidding them go and offer it to their Governors, and fee whether they would accept their Persons, or be pleased with such Services: Mai. 1. 8. And shall we think that good enough for the great Majesty of Heaven and Earth, which would be reckon'd an Affront to earthly Magistrates? If we consult the Precepts and Precedents of former times, we stall find the Practice of good Men in all Ages tq be kneeling, standing, or prostrating, but never fitting at their Prayers. David calls upon all that will draw nigh to God, to worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker; Pfal. 95.6. Accordingly we find King Solomon kneeling 'upon his Knees before the Altar of the Lord, and spreading iip his Hands to Heaven ., 1 Kings 8. $4. And the fame is afnrm'd of him in 2 Chron. 6.13. Daniel is faid to kneel upon his Knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as his Custom was, Dan.6.10. But lest any should think this only an Old-Testament Ceremony, we find in, the Gospel our Blessed Saviour upon his Knees, praying to his heavenly Father; Luke 22.41. And generally they that address'd to him for Mercy kneeled down and prayed, as we read Mat. 17.14. Mark 1.40. St. Stephen's Prayer for his Persecutors was upon his Knees; Acts 7.60. and so was St. Peter's, Acts 9.40. St. Paul here is bowing his Knees unto God; and elsewhere tells us, that at the Name of Jefusr which is mention'd in every Prayer, every Knee should bow; Phil. 2. 10. 'Twere endless to recite the many places to this purpose.
And now methinks so many Precepts and Examples for this humble Posture of Kneeling should teach us better Manners, than to sit at our Prayers; especially considering, that the Church, whereof we are Members, hath likewise xequir'd this lowly Gesture from us: whereas that other of Sitting hath no where any Precept or Precedent to countenance it.
Indeed the adorable Greatness of the Divine Majesty is sufficient to check all manner of Irreverence in our Approaches to him ., and a due Sense of his infinite Distance from us would oblige us to all Humility of Body and Mind,
and keep us from making too bold either in our Words or Gestures, when we address to him.
I have spoken the more of this, to convince you (if possible) of the Evil and Indecency of this Practice, and to persuade you to greater Reverence and Humility in the House of God who is greatly to be fear'd in the Assemblies of his Saints, and to be had in reverence of all that draw nigh to him. From the Gesture used by the Apostle in his Prayer, I proceed,
idly, To the Object to whom it was directed ; and that was, to the Father of our Lord Jefns Christ: For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jeftts Christ, of whom the, whole Family of Heaven and Earth is named. Where the Object of our Prayers is describ'd, not by the lofty Stile of God Almighty, or the most High, which is apt to make us dread, and keep at a distance from him \ but by the endearing Title of Father, to encourage us to draw nigh to him ., and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is thereby not only his Son, but our Saviour and elder Brother, to beget the greater Trust and Confidence in him by that near Relation.
He then who sent his only-begotten Son to die for us, and he who hath begotten us again to a lively Hope by his Resurrection from the Dead ., he it is, to whom our Prayers are to be directed: 'Tis not to Saints or Angels, or the Virgin Mary, as the manner of some is, for which we have not the least Direction or Encouragement, they being but Creatures like our selves, and unable either to hear or help us. 'Tis God only that heareth Prayers, and gives the Return of them - , and therefore to him alone must all Flesh come.
But tho God the Father be the principal Object of our Prayers, yet God the Son is the Mediator, in whose Name and for whose Merits we are to offer them up to him: and therefore our Church hath taught us to conclude all our Prayers with the Merits and Mediation of Jesus Christ; of whom (as the next words tell us) the whole Family of Heaven and Earth is named. Where by the whole Family of Heaven and Earth is meant the whole Catholick Church, Part whereof is triumphant in Heaven, and Part still militant here on Earth: and this militant part here on Earth, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, by the Grace of the GosDel incorporated into one Family, are all call'd by the Name os Christ, and from him stiled Christians.
4thly, From the Object, pass we next to the Subject Matter of the Apostle's Prayer, or what it was he ask'd in the behalf of these Ephefians. And that was first in general, for spiritual Strength or Grace to support them under their Infirmities, and to carry them above Temptations; that God would gram them according to the Riches of his Glory, to be strengthen'd with Might by his Spirit in the inner Man. Where by the inner Man we are to understand the Heart, Mind, or Soul, as 'tis distinguished from the Body, which is call'd the outward Man: to be strengthen d with Might in it, is to be furnish'd with inward Power and Ability to perform all holy Duties, and to be fortify'd against all the Assaults of our ghostly Enemies. This inward Strength is here faid to be given by God's Holy Spirit, the Author and Bestower of all Grace, who according to the Riches of his Glory, or the Treasures of his abundant Mercy, is alone able and willing to supply us upon all occasions, as our Necessities shall require. So that the thing in general here pray'd for, is such a Firmness of Mind, or such a stable Frame of Spirit, as might carry them with Courage and Constancy thro all the Stages of our Christian Course , being enabled to practise all those Vertues that adorn our Profession, and to avoid all those Vices that tend to disparage and defeat the Design of it. More particularly, he here prays,
1st, For -the Grace of Faith, in the next words that Christ might dwell in their Hearts by Faith: that is, that they might be so firmly built up in the Knowledg and Faith of Christ, that their Hearts might become the Habitation of God through the Spirit, Eph. 2.22. To dwell (you know) is to take up an abode with another, and implies Continuance ; not calling there as a Stranger or Traveller, but abiding as an Inhabitant, and making it his place of Residence. This our Saviour promis'd his Disciples, that he and his Father would come unto them, and make their abode with them, John 14. 23. Now Christ's dwelling in the Heaxt is here faid to be by the Grace of Faith j for that hiakes us adhere to him, and that will engage him to adhere and abide with us. This therefore the Apostle prays for in the behalf of these Ephefians, that they might persevere in the Truth, and continue stedfast in the Faith and that not an idle, dead, and ineffectual Faith, that is void of good Works, for that profiteth nothing• , but such a lively, active, and operative Faith, that hath its Fruit unto Ho
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y liness, and that will ripen and grow up into eternal Life.
2dly, Another Branch of his Prayer for them, was for the Grace of Love ; and that too not in the outward Show and Flourish, but to be firmly rooted and grounded in it; that it may be not in Word and in Tongue only, but in Deed and in Truth. Now the Love here meant, is chiefly the Love of God, that holy Fire that is to be kindled in the Heart, and still kept flaming in the Breast ; and by that we may be enabled in some measure to comprehend with all Saints, what is the Breadth and Length, the Depth and Height of the Love of God towards us. Not that we can take the infinite and unfathomable Dimensions of the Divine Love, which exceed all that we can ask or think •, but that we may arrive as far in it, as our Faculties will reach, and where they fail, we are to admire and adore the unsearchable Riches of it.
^dly, Another part of the Apostle's Prayer for these £phefians, was for the Knowledg of God, that they might know the Love of God, which paffeth Knowledg; ver. 19. Which words seem a Paradox at the first hearing, that he should pray to know that, which at the fame time he declares to be such as paffeth Knowledg; but the Sense of it is, either that he begs to know that, which surpasses all other Knowledg whatsoever, for he counted the Knowledg of all other things but Loss and Dung in comparison of the Excellency of the Knowledg of Christ, Phil. 3.8. And therefore he told the Corinthians, that he determin'd to know nothing among them, but Jesus Christ, and him crucify d; I Cor. 2. 2. that is, nothing in competition with, or in opposition to it. Or, secondly, to know the Love of God, which paffeth Knowledg, signifies to know that which our natural Powers cannot reach to the knowledg of, and is to be known only by the supernatural Light of God's Holy Spirit. Or else, thirdly, to know the Love of God, which paffeth Knowledg, is to know something of that, which at present cannot be perfectly known by us. But whether we understand the Words in all or either of these Senses, this was a noble Subject of the Apostle's Prayers, and will be always worthy of ours: for this is Life eternal (faith St. John) to know God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; John 17. 3. Our future Happiness will consist much in the Knowledg of God, and therefore we should aim and aspire to it now, and labour to attain to as high a measure, of it as we can: To-compleat which, • - -' •
The Apostle, in the last place, prays that these EpheJians might he filled with all the Fulness of God. Not that 'tis possible to attain to the Measure of the Divine Perfections, or arrive to the Fulness of the Godhead; but that we should endeavour, as far as our Capacities will reach, to be fill'd with the Graces of the Spirit, and particularly with the Knowledg and Love of God, that we may be the better fitted to be fill'd with Glory, which will consist in the Perfection of these and all other Graces: for they who know and love God here, will be known and lov'd by him hereafter, and shall have the eternal Fruition of his glorious Godhead.
These are the chief Heads of St. Paul's Prayer for these Ephesians, which he here concludes with that excellent Doxology; Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the Power that worketh in us; unto him he Glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all Ages, World without end. Amen. Where the better to assure himself and them of the Success of his Petitions, he puts them in mind of the infinite Power,and Goodness of God, who is both able and willing to give more than we can crave or conceive , that his Returns will be far beyond our Desires or Deserts, and if we ask in Faith, we need not fear exceeding in our Requests, or asking too much of him : and therefore he would have us, according to our bounden Duty, be ever ready to render him all the Praise and Glory of all his Mercies.
This is the Substance of this Day's Epistle, which contains the following useful and important Lessons.
1. We may learn hence upon all occasions to make our Requests known unto God, the Author and Fountain of z\\ our Mercies j but more especially in times of Trouble and Trial, when we stand in greatest need of his most gracious Aid and Assistance. And this we are here taught to do, not for our selves only, but for all that we are any way related to, or concern'd with, whose Good we ought to have as tender a fense of, as our own j for so we find the Apostle had in all his Epistles, giving those to whom he wrote to understand, that whether present or.absent he, was always mindful of them in his Prayers,
2. We learn hence, not to think the worse of any Cause, because it may sometimes meet with Opposition and Persecution i for so we find St. Paul and the other Apostles did
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