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II. The blessedness of Prayer.
1. This may be seen in the first place, by considering the nature of the exercise itself.
Prayer usually embraces three things,--praise-confession and supplication. The ascription of praise to God is certainly a delightful exercise to every grateful heart. The glory of his nature, and the blessings that flow continually from his bountiful hand, call for expressions of gratitude from every human tongue. "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men !" A grateful heart is burdened with a sense of obligation until it finds relief in rendering a tribute of thanks to Him who is the giver of every good and every perfect gift. We can say with the Psalmist, "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High."
Confession of sin is a part of prayer full of blessedness. To the proud heart of the wilful transgressor, such an assertion, I am aware, may seem extravagant, if not indeed false; but the humble child of God who has been brought to see the "exceeding sinfulness of sin," readily admits its truth, as he has often been conscious of it in his own experience. What a blessed hour was that to the poor prodigal when he came to himself, and said, "I will arise and go to my father." And when he poured his heart-broken confession into his injured father's ear, and met that loving father's warm embrace, he felt a joy which a squandered inheritance had never afforded. How far happier was David, the penitent confessor, penning the fifty-first Psalm, than was ever David the king, enjoying the fruit of his murderous sin. And when the repentant sinner bows before his Heavenly Father uttering the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me, a sinner," he experiences in his heart a joy which the world cannot give. It is on the principle of which we are now speaking that days of fasting and humiliation before God are not unfrequently days of the very highest enjoyment to those who observe them. At such times the Scripture is fulfilled. "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite spirit, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
Supplication, too, as a part of prayer, is a blessed exercise. To solicit favors from our fellow men is seldom agreeable to us. We are doubtful as to the reception our solicitations may meet with from him to whom we come. We may not find him in a pleasant mood; he may think we come too often; or it may not be convenient for him at the time to attend to our request. Not thus is it with our Father in heaven. His language to us is "Come"-come freely-come often-come at any time. Prefer your requests. "Ask, and it shall be given you." He may not grant the very thing we ask. Yet if that be denied he will bestow other blessings instead; or in some way cause the refusal to sub
serve our highest good. We may be assured that he will never think the worse of us for asking, even though he sees it best to withhold from us the desire of our heart.
Good when he gives,-supremely good,-
2. We may learn the blessedness of prayer by its effect on the character of him who offers it, and also by the blessings bestowed in answer to it. To both these benefits we alluded when speaking of the reasonableness of prayer. We remark further,—that the effects of this exercise on the character of him who prays are truly blessed. Prayer is communion with God. It is expressing to him the feelings and desires of the heart. Every one has observed that the effect of frequent intercourse is to assimilate in character those between whom the intercourse exists; they become like each other. Upon this principle, much prayer may be expected to produce heavenly-mindedness. Sin cannot appear so attractive to the soul conversant with the purity of heaven. Earth insensibly sinks to its proper place. Its riches, honors, pleasures, appear to us little worth while we look at the things eternal "not seen." A religion without prayer, is a religion without God. It is impossible for a man to keep in mind a vivid idea of a God, with whom he never communes, from whom he receives no instructions, to whom he prefers no request, and renders no homage. The Bible ignores such a religion.
Consider the blessings bestowed in answer to prayer. Many deny that any connection exists between prayer and the bestowment of blessing. In their estimation it is folly to suppose that God's greatness could condescend to listen to our petitions, or that his counsels would suffer him to answer them. But the BOOK declares that God does hear prayer; and instances in proof are recorded on its almost every page. Abraham plead for the righteous in the doomed cities of the plain; Jacob wrestled with the angel until with the morning light came an answer of peace; Moses interceded repeatedly and successfully in behalf of revolting Israel; Elijah shut and opened the windows of heaven; Daniel was heard in the land of his captivity, and the apostles and early Christians were again and again answered while in the name of their ascended Master they plead for the protection of Heaven, and sought blessings for which they had been instructed to ask. The church in all ages has been a witness to the blessed efficacy of prayer. Every humble, faithful Christian, is witness to it.
And what more delightful than to know that, insignificant and sinful as we are, we may yet draw nigh to the great and holy God-may make our requests unto him, assured that if presented with a right spirit they will be heard, and answered in that way
that shall be for our best good. How often have God's children gone with their sorrows to a throne of grace, and, casting their burden on the Lord, felt themselves sustained by the everlasting arms. When difficulties and perplexities increase on every hand, and waves of affliction roll darkly over the soul, then is verified to them the truth expressed by the stanza:
From every stormy wind that blows,
What a relief to a mother's burdened heart to be permitted to go to her Heavenly Father and plead for the son she loves, assured that Heaven cares for her! And trusting in God's promises, to believe that in years to come-it may be when she slumbers in the grave-those prayers shall be answered, and that loved, though wayward son, be at length gathered into the fold of the good Shepherd. How gracious the privilege accorded to the church, of coming with all her desires to a mercy-seat made accessible through the blood of her crucified Lord-being heard in his name who is head over all things for her sake. Gathered together with one accord in one place like the disciples of old, her petitions come up with acceptance before Him who is "nigh unto all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth."
Good men have always been men of prayer. Enoch undoubtedly was such; for he walked with God, and this implies communion with him, which includes prayer. Such, too, were Noah, Daniel, Job, Abraham and Jacob. David was eminently a man of prayer as his Psalms abundantly testify. Allusion has already been made to the Saviour's example in this respect, as also to that of the apostles and early Christians who had both his example and precepts for their guide. In times nearer our own there have been many of like spirit: some standing in the high places of Zion; others moving in humbler spheres--all accustomed often to draw nigh to God in prayer. The way to the throne was familiar to them-communion with God their highest privilege. From the heart they could say with the Psalmist; "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live."
The text, my brethren, reveals the secret of all true religion. "Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you." When the backslidden Christian returns to a forsaken mercy-seat, and pours the breathings of a penitent soul into the ear of his patient Heavenly Father; when the closet is revisited as a place of sacred communion with the Father of spirits, and there the fainting heart unburdens itself of its crushing load of worldliness and sin: when the family altar has been erected again, and the morning and evening sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving is offered thereon ;
and when the prayer circle is re-entered by the wanderer, and his voice is again heard among his brethren supplicating the divine mercy, and pleading the promises of infinite love-then is the joy of salvation restored to that soul, and peace and hope abide there again.
When we, as a church, endeavor unitedly to draw nigh to God, and plead fervently that he will draw nigh unto us that we may walk in the light of his countenance again; when all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking are put away from us, with all malice; and we are kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven us; when we can carry our gift to the altar and offer it there without a brother having aught against us, and plead for God's blessing on every inhabitant of Zion; and when the dying sinner's case lies heavy upon our heart, till, like a cart pressed beneath its sheaves, we bear it before God in the name of the sinner's Advocate and Redeemer--then may we hope to see the salvation of Israel come out of Zion. "When the Lord shall build up Zion he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer."
There dwelt at Ayr in Scotland two hundred and fifty years ago a clergyman of more than common piety. Before his conversion he had been remarkable for his daring wickedness. Settled at Ayr, he found a wild, reckless, drinking, fighting people. To them he preached faithfully the gospel of Christ. For them he prayed. He was known often to spend the whole night in the meeting house, alone, in prayer. When at home reclining on his bed, he always kept lying near at hand a cloak, which he was accustomed to throw over his shoulders as he rose again and again to pray during the night watches. His wife, once expostulating with him about it, he replied: Ah, woman, woman; you know not what it is to bear the burden of three thousand souls for whom you must give account. Would that every servant of God possessed the apostolic faith and fervor of John Welsh!
Prayer, my brethren, is a holy privilege. The ear of him who sitteth upon the throne forever, is open to receive our supplications. We may draw nigh to him, and he will draw nigh to us. "I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry." As we raise our feeble voices toward the throne, they seem wafted on angels' wings to our great High Priest who ever liveth to make intercession for us; and perfumed with his precious blood, they are offered at the mercy-seat, where offering of his was never rejected. Then comes down the answer peace from the Father of mercies, and God of all comfort; the soul feels the refreshing presence of Jehovah. And the Christian, all nerved again for holy enterprise, and clad with zeal as a cloak, goes forth to engage in the work to which God in his providence may call him.
Elijah had felt, in common with his countrymen, the sad effects
of the drought visited upon the land by reason of the wickedness of Ahab, and of the more wicked Jezebel and her court. it came to pass, after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go show thyself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth." But the Lord God of Elijah must first be acknowledged by that idolatrous people. After that the prophets of Baal had vainly called upon their god "from morning until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice," "it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice that Elijah the prophet came near and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob; let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me; that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it they fell on their faces, and they said, The Lord, he is the God: the Lord, he is the God."-God was ready, having thus been acknowledged, to bestow the blessing for lack of which the land was nigh to perish.
May we not hope, my brethren, that the same God has in store spiritual blessings for us? But ere he bestow them he will be honored by his own people. They must come out from the world, the love of which is enmity against Him: must turn from their covetousness, which is idolatry; and, confessing their God from whom they have departed, draw nigh to him that he may draw nigh to them. Then will the windows of heaven be opened, and blessings descend in showers, until the church, like a well watered garden, shall bloom with beauty.
The 20th of June, 1630, was observed as a communion season by the Kirk of Shotts, in Scotland. During the communion-service, there were precious manifestations of the presence of the Lord with his people, who felt they could not separate without further religious exercises on the morrow. A young clergyman* was appointed to preach. In the morning, while walking alone in the fields, his soul sunk within him as he thought of the duty he was to perform. He felt inadequate to the task. The hour of service came. The minister trembled as he went forward to address the multitude that had assembled, but was sustained and helped in a wonderful manner. He earnestly exhorted the people to seek the Lord while he might be found, and to call upon him. while he was near. The word spoken was with power and with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. More than five hundred souls dated their spiritual birth from the awakenings of that hour. It afterwards appeared that the preacher and several others had passed the whole previous night in prayer. Here was the secret of the power which attended that preaching.
* Rev. John Livingston.